A Ladder to the Stars, Lemon Tree Aberdeen FOUR STARS

How to be a Tree, Cumbernauld Theatre


Mary Brennan

When you wish upon a star, you’re really letting your imagination soar on wings of hope – and that is the very essence of this gentle, whimsical piece created by Visible Fictions for young and pre-school children. Looking at the stacks of brown cardboard boxes that are the bulk of the set design, we hope there’s some creative imagination inside them – there is! As narrators/puppeteers Hannah Howie and Ronan McMahon dip into the boxes, all manner of surprises emerge: a little girl puppet among them, and a birthday cake – she’s seven, a bit bolshy and the tinies bond instantly with her. It’s her wish – to dance with the little star she sees from her window – that (as in Simon Puttock’s original story) inspires an adventure through space and time where designer Becky Minto’s use of a revolving ‘Lazy Susan’ at the centre of the action makes for a well-paced, sleight of hand, delivery of delightfully miniature props. Because it’s the little star’s first ever wish, he’s determined to make it come true – can the frisky North (and northern-accented!) wind help? the moon? maybe even the SUN? In director Douglas Irvine’s production, everything – music, cosmic puppets, characterisation and humour – gels together with deceptive ease. Even the ending, which could hint at how human life is so much more transient than that of a star, has an uplifting feel. A gift of a show for wee ones that’s not just for Christmas – let’s make a wish that it tours across Scotland soon.

Cumbernauld Theatre has called on Eilidh MacAskill (Fish and Game) for its first venture into shows for under-fives. How to be a Christmas Tree is the result, a jolly romp of a two-hander where Fiona Manson and Becki Gerrard, in matching conical green outfits show and tell the rules of being a first class pine tree. The tots manage the ‘standing tall and true’ bit but standing still? When confronted by Claire Halleran’s wittily beguiling set – a forest of wee green cones, brightly painted large trees that have secret treasures hidden inside – small wannabe helpers are constantly on-side with Manson and Gerrard who are never needled into dropping out of character or into brusque behaviour. Instead, they get decorated and even lit up, as they prepare to be adorable Christmas trees – cue even more audience participation, as a lively audience gets all tinselled in garlands of glittery stuff. A wee seasonal cracker!