The Adventures of Curious Ganz – Assembly Roxy

Directed by Sarah Wright

Words by Anna Maria Murphy

Puppetry offers a form to the imagination that few other mediums can capture. Benefiting from a physical dimension, it takes an edge over animation, cinema and lighting effects. It makes our dreams, our hopes, and even our nightmares, significantly tangible. The Adventures of Curious Ganz told with miniatures, string and rod puppets is an enchanting piece which delves into history, alchemy and the stars.

Curiosity is, like its sibling necessity, a catalyst of science, imagination and adventure. Glossing over the colonial aspects of exploration, Curious Ganz tells the tale of a small, nosy man who is never without his trusty magnifying glass. Setting out on the open ocean, or the deepest mines of Peru in search of something, anything, Ganz encounters a familiar royal who herself finds interest in the world beyond the River Thames.

From Queen Lizzy the First to the Duffers, and even a disgustingly adorable caterpillar, Sarah Wright’s lead set and puppet design from a team consisting of Lyndie Wright, Liz Walker, Alice King, Mae Voogd, Katie Williams & Luke Wood are exceptional. Basing their production on the life of copper smelter Joachim Gans, the ability to shift us from the universe’s beginning to the stench of old London seamlessly is a testament of their profession. Liz Walker, Avye Leventis/Nix Wood and Ailsa Dalling’s conduct a wealth of tales from their fingertips, straying from drama to comedy and into touching moments with ease.

Naturally, it wouldn’t be children’s theatre without some countermanding fear to balance the sickeningly charming characters. In his bid to stifle science and maintain his authority in the Queen’s court, the Prime Minister may have a small role but it showcases the inventiveness of the Little Angel Theatre. Defiant that the world is flat, the puppet of the Prime Minister looms over model earth, with a tiny boat heading towards the edge. As he warns of sea monsters, leviathans and beasts, enormous puppet creatures sway back and forth around him. Sharply crafting him, his features strike imposing shadows on the cold stone of the Assembly theatre.That’s the thing about ‘kid’s shows, in an audience with one child -there are many more adults- it’s evidence of our appetite for shows such as Curious Ganz.

Unfortunately, there is some incoherence with the narrative, which causes the imagination to come off the reigns. It leads to the climax feeling rushed, bombastically throwing a great deal at the audience, and when contrasted with the slow, simple opener as the universe evolves, seems heavy on visuals, and light on reserved storytelling.

Understandably, this eruption of creativity comes from a place of enthusiasm. Which is what you’ll find heaping’s off throughout Curious Ganz, passionate storytelling which stumbles on its coattails to showcase as much delightful puppetry as possible in the fifty-minute runtime. Offering a revised insight into historical discovery, with delightful puppets of all shapes and sizes, Little Angel Theatre and Silent Ride are alchemists of storytelling, spinning wood, plastic and string into gold.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/the-adventures-of-curious-ganz/

The Man Who Planted Trees – Scottish Storytelling Centre

Written by Jean Giono

After thirteen years and with over 1,700 performances under their belts, you would think that Puppet State Theatre – the company behind The Man Who Planted Trees – would pack up their acorns and have a bit of a rest. It’s a pleasure to say that the company are still performing this astoundingly delightful show, and are bringing theatre to people of all ages with a tale that is sadly more vital than ever.

In 2019 this piece is glaringly important. Not only because of its ecological standpoint, but also due to its nuanced themes of neighbourly respect, kindness and appreciation. Adapted from the short story by Jean Gionothe show follows Elzéard Bouffier, a shepherd who single-handedly begins to re-plant 10,000 trees. He does so without seeking praise or glory – it is only Jean (and Bouffier’s dog) who realise the tremendous feat the man undertakes.

It is remarkably rare to find a production which appeals to the masses without cheap tactics, relying simply on the power of its storytelling and the raw, emotional heart of its message. It’s spectacular that so much can be communicated here with through theatrical magic, exquisite world-building and cracking humour. 

With the same puppets in use for over a decade, cherished by puppeteers and audience alike, there’s a deep warmth to this multi-sensory and engaging production. The power and importance of The Man Who Planted Trees only increases with age. It is an exquisite balance of humour, emotion, heart, war, pain and beauty. This isn’t only something to catch during the Fringe – this is something to see anytime you can.

Review originally published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-fringe/theatre/the-man-who-planted-trees

Annie – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

Book by Thomas Meehan

Music by Charles StrouseLyrics by Martin Charnin

Directed by Nikolai Foster

Little orphan Annie, the tale of a scrappy, fiercely independent red-head orphan, is a cornerstone of musical theatre. Lyrical, quotable and determined to put a smile on your face, the production resumes touring with a thoroughly talented cast. Escaping the spiteful gaze of Miss Hannigan, Annie sees the gritty truth of the Big Apple. Encountering a few friends along the way, in high places, and one with excess fur, Annie finds herself being taken in by billionaire Warbucks.

Usually, politeness is on hand for younger performers in the role of Annie or fellow orphans. No such modesty is needed, however, as making her professional debut, Ava Smith isn’t emulating Annie – she is Annie. Snarky, friendly yet sharp in delivery, Smith is a firecracker who can belt out the big notes, holding clarity as well as our attention. At first, Smith’s Annie feels older, but she’s portraying a young girl puffing out her feathers to intimidate the world, capturing that brazen young American, hiding a vulnerable young girl.  

We love you Miss Hannigan’, words these unfortunate orphans must recite to the drunkard who is now their carer. Lesley Joseph is certainly a Miss Hannigan to fall for. She doesn’t quite have the fangs others have given the role, Joseph instead provides her honed comedic talents. Exaggeration is everything, Joseph is a veteran of comedy, knowing where to toe the line between over the top, and accessible. From the glugs of her ‘medicine’ to the slight wobble in her movement, she somehow offers a subtlety to a role which is dangerously easy to overplay. Vocally, her numbers reserve themselves for humour and characterisation, delivering a spit-fuelled Little Girls.

Something is fascinating with the music of Annie, beloved staples of the industry; chiefly Tomorrow and It’s a Hard Knock Life, reliving these live on stage is a wholly distinctive experience. These charming ditties – known to most, transform, proving that no matter how superior a cast recording is, nothing can eclipse a live performance. Nothing can capture the expressive nostalgia of N.Y.C quite like a performer’s smile, and certainly, nothing can come close to capturing the antics of Easy Street.

Rooster by name, Rooster by nature – Richard Meek has them snakes hips we envy, strutting around like any rooster in the hen-house. Easy Street casually strolls to the forefront of our enjoyment, firmly planting itself as a favourite. Choreographer Nick Winston, with reinforcement from dance captain Amy West, maintains an upbeat presence throughout Annie. Excelling at this, giving a huge boost to the character, Meek captures the spirit of Rooster, erratic, impulsive and unpredictable.

Framing these larger than life characters is no easy feat, one Colin Richmond readily prepares for. Setting the production in an emerald tinted homage to Rob Howell’s Matilda design, Richmond works in tandem with Ben Cracknell to provide a vibrancy which manages to illuminate the theatre, from the barrel fires of Hooverville to the glitz, gold and shine of Warbucks mansion. 

Bringing the ol’ razzamatazz, Daddy Warbucks himself, Alex Bourne captures an inherent art of classical musical theatre. His performance is paternal, selling the character as a loving father as easily as the businessman. Between his warming chemistry with Smith, the presence of four-footed diva Amber the dog and a wealth of talented young women as Annie’s fellow orphans. It’s a production which goes beyond expectations.

It can be a hard knock life these days, Annie is pure escapism, it’s comforting theatre, welcoming to all with a timeless charm. An already tried and tested piece, what this recent touring does is capitalise on a strong cast who look, act and feel the part. Take a few hours out of the day, breath in that rich, city air and re-live the thriving bundle of playfulness that is Annie.

Production runs at The Edinburgh Playhouse until Saturday October 5th. Tickets available from: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/annie/edinburgh-playhouse/