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Doing it for the kids

No fringe show is complete without some form of audience participation, whether of the galling and humiliating kind or the fun, foolish kind, and an early entreaty to “get ready for some acting and singing” gears up the Wee Willie Gray audience, young and old, for an hour of gentle entertainment and silly fun.

Using minimal props and costumes, the folks at Foolish Notion weave a tale of selkies, mermaids and, of course, wee men who travel through stories.

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Cello accompaniment adds atmosphere to the pared-down activity on stage, and the frequent invitations to sing along or provide hand gestures are involving, rather than intrusive.

This show simply celebrates a good story with good storytelling, without any bells and whistles. (Save for a train whistle!)

The little ones especially will enjoy the play along fun, while older kids and adults will enjoy the narrative. Just get ready to make like a spooky tree.

Less spooky, but no less demanding of its wee excitable audience, is Hairy Maclary and Friends, by Nonsenseroom Productions.

The bairns, weans and anybody else who’s a fan of the illustrated book series which chronicles the adventures of the small terrier will be difficult to restrain when asked for help from the performers. In this cheerful singalong for the younger set there’s plenty of toe-tapping and hand-clapping, and so numerous and vociferous was the audience that sometimes the performers were drowned out

They were, however, able to keep the kids in stitches, no matter the volume. Favourite characters from the series make their appearances, and many doggy frolics ensue.

Belt Up, a company which elicited considerable excited comment and a buzzy reputation in fringes past, has lived up to the hype with their family show, the loopy fairytale Octavia. With an atmospheric set dressed as a kind of crazy picnic, the feel is immediately one of a coveted invitation to a mad party and reminiscent of the snug, cozy environs of a child’s blanket fort. When the players come out and the show unwinds around the audience on their cushions, there is a magical feel of something very special about to happen.

The story, a quasi-traditional quest-tale, is about the young Princess Octavia, sent out to claim her destiny in an alien land. The characters, some in harlequin make-up, some with false crayon beards, some with big bosoms and bums, all eccentric and delightfully dotty, fill the space with their as-needs-be creations, each playing numerous characters, and sometimes characters within characters.

There is a deep irreverence and a playful rejection of traditional story -telling, and at the traditional point in the narrative where the heroine is to encounter some hardship, we are told “some pterodactyls or something had taken Octavia’s food.” There’s a scatty, improvised quality to the structure and performances – but don’t be fooled, this is a very finely crafted creation, and a real pleasure to behold.

Wee Willie Gray, Scottish Storytelling Centre

Star rating: ****

Hairy Maclary and Friends, Assembly Rooms

Star rating: ***

Belt Up’s Octavia, C Venues

Star rating: *****

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