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Coal Head, Toadstool Mouth and Other Stories
Published on Saturday, 27 August 2011
3

3 stars

theSpace @ Symposium Hall (venue website)
Theatre
8 Aug, 8:30pm-10:00pm; 9-13, 15-20, 22-27 Aug, 8:30pm-9:30pm
Reviewed by Eve Nicol

 Parental Guidance. Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

With more and more venues being added to the Fringe map every year, the choice of space is huge. Plush hotel conference rooms, grimy bars and disused store rooms present many options to companies. Alas, though this student group may not have the funds to splash out on the perfect space for their performance, the stark lighting and overly-clean lecture theatre in theSpace's Symposium Hall is so detrimental to the enjoyment of the performance as to make it impossible to ignore.

The whimsical, episodic tales that make up Coal Head, Toadstool Mouth and Other Stories lose all their magic in this space. Yet they are kept compelling by the excellent storytelling skills of the talented four-strong company. They tell the tales of unfortunate puppets and pupae with skilful narration and character performances.

The linking scenes, of circus employees at work, are perhaps some of the weakest threads of the show; but a real treat is the whispered conversations between museum paintings who come alive by torchlight. The Girl With the Pearl Earring's coy romantic advances to The Scream are endearing.

The title story of Coal Head and Toadstool Mouth is the longest of the stories. The long, solo narration is spot on, told in a clear and suitably spooky fashion. The characters of this story remain silent throughout, but are given voice and personality through subtle but expressive gesture. It is a wistful cautionary yarn that works with the traditional narrative of folk tales to create a rich and unsettling story. It's a Hansel & Gretel tale with a nice emphasis on sisterhood, that feels as classic as any Grimm tale.

It takes a while for the performers to settle into their flow, meaning the first few scenes are a touch confusing. The show gains momentum slowly but when it reaches its peak it's really rather engaging.

With atmosphere being such a crucial part of this show, it is a real shame that is entirely quashed by the choice of venue. Part of the fun of the Fringe is that companies are forced to make the most out of temporary performance space, but in SUDS' case, it is as impossible to ignore as incongruous costume or lighting design. This said, the lecture hall did have the comfiest seats I've sat in all festival – so I enjoyed burrowing into the plush armrests, and being entertained by the gently unsettling tales.

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