The Tin Soldier

The Studio, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan


SOME fairy stories are never off the stage at Christmas-time: Hans Christian Andersen’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier isn’t one of them, probably because it has a sad ending. However, the creative team at Birds of Paradise (BOP) believe that children can cope with the soldier’s tragic fate because there is true love, loyalty and valour at the heart of it.

It’s the first time BOP have made a show for youngsters (aged 5 to 9) and their families - it’s running until December 23 and is a captivating alternative to full-blown pantos. Director Garry Robson has given a bitter-sweet context to Mike Kenny’s adaptation of Andersen’s tale, one that weaves in the issues of difference, and disability, that BOP explore in their work throughout the year.

Robert Softley Gale’s Jack never labels the institution he’s in, but the clutter of cardboard boxes that designer Victor Nikonenko uses for the set suggest a rubbish tip for the unwanted. Here Jack the lad and his ad hoc ‘family’ – Lauren Gilmour, Caroline Parker, Joseph Brown and Audrey Tait – re-enact the story of a pretty ballerina doll and the one-legged tin soldier who adores her. He’s one-legged because the metal spoon ran out before he could be finished – this imperfection sees him thrown away as useless. For Gale’s Jack, as a wheelchair user, this is a hurtful reminder of how society treats disability, yet as the set releases surprises - balloons pop up, puppets come into play, a huge window harbours colourful projections - his attitude shifts, thanks to the supportive camaraderie of the others.

BSL signing and captions ensure everyone can follow the narrative, the performances are, like the music, full of an engaging warmth and humour while the final image of transformation is simply beautiful.