EFR - Reviews of Handmade Tales

Handmade Tales

Fri 2nd – Mon 26th August 2013

reviews

James Cetkovski

at 08:47 on 5th Aug 2013

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1disagrees

I don’t think I’ve ever felt as welcome in a theatre as I did today at the Zoo Southside for Tap Tap Theatre’s ‘Handmade Tales.’ The atmosphere of energy and playfulness they manage to create is really quite something. It’s billed as a show for ‘the young and the young at heart’; if I were fifteen years younger there’s no doubt that I would have had an amazing time. Today I had a really good time, but I think it could have been better. So I guess the question is to what standard should they be held, the kids’ or the adults’?

I’m going to hold them to the adult standard because they deserve it—their stuff is plenty sophisticated. A set of five fairy-type tales bookended by a prologue and epilogue, there’s plenty of content sure to stimulate more worldly imaginations. In ‘The Tale of the Prince,’ the hero turns to webcam interviews in his desperate search for a wife. Through a screen-simulating frame held up by another actor, a woman stands with her back to the audience, hipshot; she turns with one finger resting coquettishly on her lower lip. ‘Sorry,’ she purrs in an Eastern European accent, ‘vrong vebsite.’

The sophistication extends to the play’s overall structure—in a limited way. In the epilogue, one character bursts the boundaries of his own story and begins destroying the endings of the others; the epilogue becomes a tale in itself. A creative touch, but it also has the unfortunate consequence of highlighting the lack of creativity in the plots of the individual stories. Except for the wonderful concluding ‘Tale of Grandma Edie’ the narratives are simplistic and predictable. Prince falls for the mental qualities of allegedly unattractive woman and discovers she’s beautiful; young boy plagued by nightmares is empowered by the healing power of the imagination; & c. More twists please! Tap Tap Theatre clearly doesn’t lack for creative firepower; I’d like to see it reach to every element of its productions.

The company’s greatest virtue is the physicality of its performance. The actors bound around the stage, dripping with sweat, crisscrossing in complex patterns at high speed one moment, coming together to form a single elaborate mass the next. They have an extraordinary ability to make the abstract literal; my favourite example of this involves—once again—the prince, whose difficulty is that he ‘can’t catch love’: the other actors, by snapping their fingers, ‘throw’ love to each other in an elaborate, enchanting way that really defies description while the prince stands in the middle of the stage, trying futilely to grasp it, watching it just elude his reach every time.

Like a hot bath for the imagination ‘The Handmade Tales’ warms and stimulates; it doesn’t miss greatness by much.

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Shirley Halse

at 09:30 on 5th Aug 2013

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First, no, it’s not Margaret Atwood. Secondly, I really cannot get over how good this was. If I had a child, I would definitely take them to this show (fairly unashamedly as an excuse for me to go and see it again). To give you an idea of how hard working and energetic the cast were - they were visibly sweating from the sheer amount of movement that their piece contained.

The show starts in rhyming couplets - poetry which settles us decidedly in the genre of stories for children. Even before the stories start, all the performers are wholly engaged in this prologue. With a fantastic beginning, both their confident delivery and movement continues to impress throughout.

Costume-wise, all the performers were dressed in dungarees as if they were oversized children. Clearly, the show does have children in mind as the primary target audience but the great triumph of the piece is that it is equally appealing to adults. There’s plenty of poo and bogies for kids but also quick quips for us grown-ups to appreciate too – a brief mention of the NHS for example. It delights children and also manages to remind us how delightful childhood is.

Refreshingly the stories abound with highly intelligent children. This is not a case of adults talking down to kids or, worse, adults pretending to be immature, but instead it actively engages with the freedom and imagination of a child. With five stories ranging from a classic story of a prince trying to find a wife (although it is made very modern with the introduction of internet dating) to a story of a baron with OCD and an invading dragon. A child draws himself strong to tackle nightmares; two siblings work together to escape the Land of Lost Things; and, my favourite, a girl uses the dictionary to make words mean what she wants.

There’s no doubt that the six members of the cast and the two violinists are all exceptionally talented. The set consisted of only six cardboard boxes, but the stage was always visually engaging – in fact, I think it’s the most impressive physical theatre I have seen.

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