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East of the Sun, West of the Moon
Published on Tuesday, 14 August 2012
3

3 stars

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
Childrens
3-4, 6-11, 13-18, 20-25 Aug, 12:10pm-12:55pm
Reviewed by M H Allner

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Just past the sleek, sophisticated entrance of Surgeon’s Hall, in a black-clothed, non-descript conference room turned theatre, is a world sparkling with snow and singing the songs of the wind. Four people welcome you, usher you into seats with a smile, all but taking your hand as you enter. One man, towering over his diminutive companions, plays a guitar and sings silly songs inspired by audience suggestion. Then a girl interrupts, asking him to play that tune, the one from the time when magic was real. He begins.

As a Norwegian variant of Beauty and the Beast's 'husband sequence', the stage adaptation of East of the Sun, West of the Moon is a heart-warming, wonderfully presented package of folklore and oral storytelling. The story is not unique or original: a girl is rescued by a grumpy polar bear and kept safe from the cold, cruel snow in his enchanted castle. The only catch is that she must never enter his quarters. Driven by curiosity, she cannot resist the temptation and breaks that ‘one simple rule’, triggering his curse. Magic steals him away to the castle East of the Sun and West of the Moon where marriage to a Troll Princess awaits him, leaving our devastated heroine determined to do the impossible. She will rescue him.

The cast are clearly comfortable with their child-centric audience, and the performance unabashedly aims itself at the inclusion of the under-ten crowd rather than their adult companions. Paul Tonkin as the polar bear made a particular impact, his comical expressions and actions verging on slapstick, drawing giggles from most of the audience. At times that silliness seemed straight from one of those 6am-don’t-wake-the-parents shows on BBC, with enough of a hint of patronising simplicity to make me cringe. The little ones still kept on grinning though, which sort-of made it all right.

Yet in the spiralling, wind-rushed descent into myth, what was most striking was their use of character-acting. The four Homespun cast play a miscellaneous assortment of figures throughout the play. Voice is one of their most powerful tools, creating distinctive personas, giddy conversations between winds and peculiar and eerie echoes that string the performance together. It is voice that accentuates snow and wind as primary motifs. It is voice that creates the hermeneutic space in which we are lost to imagination. With the constant narration that leads you off the path and into the forest, the fact that you are listening to a story is almost lost.

Sometimes you wish there was a little more action, a little less silliness, a little more development of the relationship between bear and girl. But nonetheless, there is something magical in sitting, listening and letting yourself travel along the Northern Lights of this piece of theatre.

So if you want to wish upon a snowflake or consider its uniqueness, then let yourself be drawn into this land that's both familiar and strange. Homespun are offering a wonderful escape into long-lost childish fantasy and a heart-warming tale for anyone who has ever lost something dear.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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