Writer: Mike Kenny
Director: Gary Robson
Music: Lauren Gilmore, Stuart Ramage and Audrey Tait
Reviewer: Emily Hall
There is no better, more touching way for Edinburgh’s children to get into the Christmas spirit than with a visit to The Studio at Festival Theatre for Birds of Paradise Theatre’s rendition of The Steadfast Tin Soldier. The original heartrending tale is brought to an even more difficult, intimate context as it is revisited by differently abled children at “The Place,” inspired by a St. Petersburg orphanage after director Garry Robson witnessed the way that the orphans clung to each other, forming family groups and finding meaning in a place that offers little hope for the future
The set design is whimsical and touching, infusing the play with rich imagination from the first moment. The young girl who is assigned the role of the soldier explains that the many stacks of boxes the cast emerges from aren’t just boxes, but parcels sent from all around the world, containing treasures eager to find homes in exotic locations.
The children are played by adults, but they evoke childlike nostalgia with heart-breaking enthusiasm and creativity as they roll and walk to centre stage. They have tables laid out in the centre, where they eat but never get full out of humble metal bowls. In the corner, a musical setup looks homemade with pots and pans dangling from a frame but Lauren Gilmore’s captivating voice and Audrey Tait’s pundit accompaniment serves as a metaphor for the way the children take the little they have and spin their own arresting magic.
Writer Mike Kenny beautifully highlights the themes of ability and family with Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the last of 25 tin soldiers cast from one spoon – the brother who didn’t have enough tin leftover for his second leg but stands, steadfast, admiring his ballerina anyways. The children don’t just tell but embody the story, proving how, despite their different physical capabilities, they are all able to work together to find their own meaning when the lights go off and the night staff retreat down the hall.
The production is completely accessible, with sign language throughout and each line artfully projected in different colours onto one of the paper boxes. Robert Softley Gale leads the storytelling, poignantly addressing the difficult themes in the story, but eschewing the sad ending by concluding on a note of hope.
Ultimately, Andersen’s classic romantic tragedy becomes a story of familial love over romantic loyalty, an inspiring story even after the soldier’s tragic demise. The show has all the snow, all the parcels and all the minor chords of a Christmas tale, but most importantly it has the wonder, love and imagination that make each dark December so enchanting.
Runs until 23 December 2017 | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic