En­dur­ing work is still de­light­ing young­sters

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - CULTURE - By Mark Brown Tour de­tails: cather­inewheels.co.uk

Martha, a muchloved play for chil­dren aged four years old and over, is one of the most suc­cess­ful pro­duc­tions of the great Scot­tish chil­dren’s the­atre com­pany Cather­ine Wheels. The work of Andy Man­ley, Gill Robert­son (who di­rects the show) and An­nie Wood, it was first staged in 1999. This re­vival, which stars the ex­cel­lent Is­abelle Joss as the lonely and can­tan­ker­ous Mrs Don­ald (aka Martha), whose heart is melted by a gre­gar­i­ous goose, is tes­ta­ment to its en­dur­ing charm.

We first meet Martha as she bus­tles around de­signer Karen Ten­nent’s in­ge­nious set (a lit­tle wooden house on a shin­gle beach from which emerges the para­pher­na­lia of the soli­tary woman’s life, in­clud­ing men­ac­ing skull and cross­bones flags). Whether Martha is widowed or sep­a­rated we don’t know, but one thing is cer­tain, she prefers to keep peo­ple (and geese) at arm’s length.

How­ever, hav­ing cast Goose (who is rep­re­sented by a de­light­ful pup­pet on wheels) out into a storm, Martha finds the poor crea­ture shiv­er­ing and sneez­ing on her doorstep the next morn­ing. Fi­nally tak­ing the bird in, the reclu­sive Martha in­ad­ver­tently be­gins a friend­ship that will ef­fect in her a Scrooge-like trans­for­ma­tion.

This touch­ing tale is told by way of lovely phys­i­cal com­edy, an ac­com­plished the­atre of ob­jects and smart, hu­mor­ous pup­petry. Robert­son’s pro­duc­tion ex­hibits a bril­liant un­der­stand­ing of what makes young chil­dren laugh; not least in the an­tics of the play­ful Goose, who (thanks to Chris Alexan­der’s su­perb, en­er­getic ma­nip­u­la­tion) pops up where Martha least ex­pects him and runs amok hi­lar­i­ously when he’s left alone in the house.

Nurs­ery school and early pri­mary aged chil­dren are among the most de­mand­ing of the­atre au­di­ences. Many a pro­duc­tion has suc­cumbed to the bored chair flip­ping and gen­eral rest­less­ness of unim­pressed ju­nior pa­trons.

It speaks vol­umes about this lit­tle play that, al­most 20 years since its pre­miere, it is de­light­ing an­other gen­er­a­tion of very young the­atre­go­ers.

Tip­ping the Hat

Oran Mor, Glas­gow, Four stars Trans­fer­ring to Tra­verse, Ed­in­burgh, Oc­to­ber 2-6 and Haddo Fes­ti­val, Aberdeen, Oc­to­ber 13

The hat be­ing tipped in this richly en­joy­able piece from the lunchtime the­atre A Play, a Pie and a Pint is that of ac­tor, direc­tor and writer ex­traor­di­naire

John Bett. The tipees, if you will, are the dou­ble act of the English mu­sic hall Michael Flan­ders and Don­ald Swann.

The lyri­cal satirists (who en­joyed par­tic­u­lar ac­claim in the 1950s and 60s, and were par­o­died won­der­fully ear­lier this cen­tury by TV co­me­di­ans Arm­strong and Miller) are played by the un­likely, but su­perb, Scot­tish duo of John Jack (Flan­ders) and, at the piano, Gor­don Cree (Swann).

Bett (who also di­rects the show) has writ­ten, not a drama, but a mu­si­cal revue laced with nar­rated bi­og­ra­phy, po­lit­i­cal his­tory and gen­tle satire. Jack and Cree al­ter­nate splen­didly be­tween per­form­ing the songs of the fa­mous dou­ble act and, in their own, droll, Cale­do­nian per­sonas, re­gal­ing us with in­ter­est­ing sto­ries from the lives and times of Flan­ders and Swann.

The show alights upon the much loved (and qui­etly an­gry) song about the ro­man­ti­cally named rail­way sta­tions that were closed by the in­fa­mous, Con­ser­va­tive chair­man of Bri­tish Rail­ways, Richard “The Axe” Beech­ing, in the 1960s. From there it isn’t far to Flan­ders and Swann’s as­so­ci­a­tion with Tony Benn, and their strongly, if dis­creetly, held so­cial­ist con­vic­tions.

Jack and Cree, who sing the num­bers splen­didly, have a tremen­dous grasp of the songs’ satire (which one might con­sider a clenched fist in a vel­vet glove). They also build their own en­joy­able ver­sion of Flan­ders and Swann’s rap­port with their au­di­ence.

Which is not to say that the pro­duc­tion is per­fect. It be­gins with three ver­sions of the mem­o­rably silly ditty The Gnu Song, which is, surely, at least one large, dark an­te­lope too many. Nonethe­less, there is no doubt­ing that this is a beau­ti­fully per­formed, wit­tily plea­sur­able piece of nos­tal­gic en­ter­tain­ment.

Is­abelle Joss and Goose in Martha. Photo: Brian Hart­ley

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