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Buon appetito to a healthy varied palate

Magic Spaghetti


touring to Citizens Theatre, Glasgow

The Byre, St Andrews

Kilwinning Church hall

until May 7

age range: 3-7

tel 0131 315 2151

Call it prescience, call it luck, but just now Licketyspit has its finger so firmly on the public pulse it almost cuts off the circulation.

After a year in the cooking, the theatre company for children is now twirling its Magic Spaghetti in front of audiences whose diet for months has been newspaper stories of obese children, Jamie Oliver and school dinner ladies who don't know how to cook.

Written and directed by the company's artistic director, Virginia Radcliffe, Magic Spaghetti not only does for pasta what Delia Smith did for the boiled egg, but it also is a hymn to healthy eating (in which it is encouraged by Lothian Health Board), served up with a welcome dose of beflagged Italian sunshine before a backdrop of a sun-drenched Tuscan town by a lively and talented quartet of actors.

Between them, these four play 14 roles, in such disguise and with such conviction that I sometimes found myself trying to guess their identity rather than follow the action. The dialogue is shamelessly stage Italian and no one of the four enjoys this as much as Harry Ward, as the cheesemonger and pot-bellied mayor of the town, whose hat deserves a play on its own.

The plain thread of the tale is that the villagers, who subsist on plain food, spaghetti without sauce and a diet lacking in salad, vegetables and fruit, have their lives transformed by the enticing cooking of Strega Nona.

Estrid Barton gives a winning performance as the granny witch, who, while being only too open about her recipe for making the sauce, letting the audience smell the herbs and watch her preparing the oil and onions, nevertheless has to depend on a magic pot to cook her pasta.

When her back is turned, glaikit Big-ga Tony seizes the chance to be the sorcerer's apprentice and pronounce the charm to begin the rolling boil which all too soon fills the stage with very long pasta. The return of Strega Nona brings what is, at times, a complicated tale to a happy ending.

This is not only the expected delicious and varied diet for the townspeople, but also the young lovers deciding that they want to set off together to see the world. It is all part of the plea for change and adventure that the story demands, but it is an odd departure for a play for 3- to 7-year-olds (this being the special age group that Licketyspit sets its sights on).

It is an audience that comes with its mam, nan and sometimes dad and, because of the reputation the company gained with Wee Stories Theatre, they are packing out the public performances.

Valvona Crolla of Leith Walk, Edinburgh, be it said, are the sole providers of the pasta used during the tour. Cunningly, Licketyspit include in the programme the recipe for Strega Nona's Quicky Sugo Sauce, by courtesy of Mary Contini of Easy Peasy cookbook fame. Watch out for some youthful shoppers in Scotland's oldest Italian delicatessen.

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