Stan and Mabel and the Race for Space

City Halls, Glasgow

Mary Brennan

four stars

Upstairs, there are jolly pre-show activities on offer. Youngsters are busy, drawing the dog (Stan) and cat (Mabel) whose adventures are colourfully detailed in illustrated story-books by Jason Chapman. Some children have even done homework! Going online and learning the joining-in songs that composer Paul Rissmann has woven into his score for Stan and Mabel and the Race for Space. It’s a moot point whether the Scottish Chamber Orchestra ever has a more enthusiastic audience than the one bouncing into the auditorium for this family-friendly concert.

It proves a fast-paced hour of clever fun. Narrator Chris Jarvis is a genial, larky chap who settles the young audience into looking-and-listening mode by introducing the different instruments in the orchestra, highlighting particular characteristics and connecting certain sounds with animals that will subsequently come into play during the story-telling. What, for instance, do the trombones and tuba sound like? A chorus of young voices gleefully calls back ‘An elephant!’ Spot on, like the singalong moments in a narrative where escapist fantasy helps to bring home the sad realities of climate change. As images from Chapman’s book are projected onto an overhead screen, Jarvis relates how desperate animals have started scavenging for food in Stan and Mabel’s home town. Deemed to be wild and dangerous, they are rounded up and made to work, cleaning streets and serving in shops - but no Polar Bear should be making milk-shakes, and so Stan and Mabel concoct a rescue plan involving a space rocket and an environmentally safe planet... There are uh-oh! hitches before a happy ending (on Earth) - hurrah! And throughout, Rissman’s evocative conjuring of moods - vividly performed by the SCO , conducted by Catherine Larsen-Maguire - has crept into young ears, tinged with classical nuances and flourishes of action-movie pzazz. For ages 4 to 10, Stan and Mabel’s escapades have made orchestral encounters an enjoyable adventure.