Why sit, a passive observer in a plush seat, when you can experience the action at close quarters, and even join in? Well, as plenty of three-year-olds could tell immersion-seeking adults, shows for younger audiences have been ahead of this game for ages. This year, venues all across Scotland are scheduling interactive seasonal treats for tinies. Here are three of the goodies currently on offer – two are in Glasgow, and Little Ulla is now out on tour.
Grinagog Theatre (aka Clare McGarry and Steven Rae) premiered the show to rapturous acclaim at the Citizens last year. Since then, Scottish Opera has come on board, supporting various elements of re-design – lla, the little mountain goat puppet, is sweetly fluffier than ever – but otherwise leaving this utterly charming, heart-warming piece to work its magic on young (and old) as before. Oh how we would love Ulla to be our postie, alerting us to mail deliveries with a chirpy trill of "I've got a little letter for you-hoo-hoo!" Her duties, however, keep her busy in the on-stage Alps, where we encounter some of her quirkily odd-ball regulars. Rae's wacky cameos as Granny Strudel and Mr Sledger gently lead the three- to six-year-olds into lively action games, but it's lonely Mr Hans and his lack of Christmas cards that sets everyone eagerly calling out the wishes, kisses and drawings they want to send him. The adults suddenly find themselves immersed in fighting back the tears.
Over at the Tron Upstairs, when the big hand points up and the wee hand is right beside it – tick-tock, tick-tock, it's Christmas Time! Duster (Mary Gapinski) and Sweep (Toni Frutin) have been given the important job of looking after the Christmas Clock. And there's a checklist of vital tasks to keep the cogs in motion – if the clock stops, then time will stop and there won't be any Christmas. We all help out with the make-believe, and the little rhyme (with actions), but our new chums take to cutting corners – even missing out things that make Christmas special – until there's no reassuring tick, no longed-for tock.
Kirsty McCabe's gorgeously witty set is like an advent calendar crammed with surprises. Cabinet doors and drawers open up on a wealth of colourful, Christmassy objects that Gapinski and Frutin whisk into play, each little episode connecting with recognisable events such as wrapping presents, or decorating the tree. As for the clocks on every available surface, they all create an awareness of time – from breakfast time to bed time – that, like this whole production, engages the imagination. A thoroughly good time was had by all.
Scottish Youth Theatre's Oh Crumbs, Scary Biscuits! is a promenade version of Hansel and Gretel that brilliantly references wee ones at every turn. The young cast – Andrew Jeffrey (Hansel), Jenni Wright (Gretel), Jayne Austin (Chookie Birdie/Mrs McMuffin) – really listen to what the tots say and channel even the wildest suggestions into the narrative without losing the plot or scuppering the nicely brisk pace. Three separate, lovingly detailed locations help keep things on the move but in the end it's the energy, the focus and quick wits of the cast that make this into a richly rewarding journey into interactive storytelling for three- to seven-year-olds. Fabulous feathers, by the way, Chookie Birdie – pure Vegas!
For details of Little Ulla tour dates visit www.scottishopera.org.uk.