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The Snail and the Whale
Published on Friday, 10 August 2012
4

4 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
Childrens
1-14, 16-26 Aug, 3:00pm-3:45pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

Right behind my head in Pleasance Beyond is a basketball hoop, the back row being built up above the level of the net.  How many points, I idly wonder, would I get if I were to dunk one of these children?  There are lots of them, from babes in arms to perhaps six or seven years old, all crawling and mewling and scarcely paying attention.  Nobody would miss one, surely – and maybe then the rest of them would pay attention.

I joke, of course – no thoughts of infanticide seriously enter my head.  The performers are obviously well used to this, carrying on regardless as the packed auditorium pays them no heed until the next sing-along or fart joke.  I am in awe of their professionalism.

As an adaptation of Julia Donaldson's book, The Snail and the Whale needs little introduction for an audience well-accustomed to reading it, or having it read to them.  Ellie Moore on viola fiddles us into our seats, and then serves as narrator of the piece, taking us back in time to examine the relationship between her younger self (played by Rhiannon Wallace) and her father (Martyn Dempsey).  Dad, a seaman of sorts, is hauling anchor, and his “little one” (she's never named) listens to him tell her favourite story, of the tiny snail who hitches a ride on the big whale.

I found the props employed to be simple yet endearing – Speedy the snail is a simple beany toy who whispers, Sooty-style, to her human interlocutors.  The whale – a “blue-grey humpback whale,” to be precise – is skilfully brought alive through the use of an upturned bookcase and a nest of IKEA tables, and it is flexible enough to provide a sense of motion and adventure, helping the action not seem static.

On the whole, I felt the performances were winning, and, with few exceptions, were well-judged and engaging.  A sequence with gurning penguins went on a little too long to keep me onboard, and I felt the chop-socky crustaceans were out of place.  But, predictably, the youthful client group adored these, and energetically took part in the call-and-response they entailed.

Children being children, of course, they loved it at points, and were hot and grumpy and noisy at other points.  In the climactic scene, set in school, Moore seemed a lot like the substitute teacher struggling to maintain the attention of her rowdy gaggle of youngsters.  But with a final flourish, the cast get the room facing eyes front for the clap-along finale, and the unexpectedly moving denouement.

As I write this, basking in the Florida-like sunshine the Edinburgh summer has given us, for now, I reflect that this may be the next best thing to Sea World for family outings at the Fringe.  But what they say about Shamu holds true here, as well – the front twelve rows will get wet.  Charming and well-produced, this is a strong choice for kids, if not a slam-dunk.

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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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