All the elements of good theatre

1st September 2000 at 01:00
THE LAIRD'S NEW KILT. Wee Stories Theatre for Children. Pitlochry Festival Theatre, September 3. Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, October 13.

Highly visual, richly imaginative and very entertaining: The Laird's New Kilt mixes the vital ingredients which makes Wee Stories so popular with children and adults alike and simply one of the best children's theatre companies around.

A Scottish adaptation (well, reinvention would be more accurate) of The Emperor's New Clothes, the story is set on the island of Kiltie where the greedy Laird owns everything that moves and everything that doesn't.

Whether or not political satire is intentional in a show suitable for ages five plus, the huntin', shootin' and fishin' fraternity do get a good comical bashing and the question of natural resources and who owns what is a tightly woven sub-text in this production as we follow young Rhona and her pet sheep Ramsay on their journey to the laird's big hoose.

If there are echoes of the old 7:84 Theatre Company and The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black Black Oil (and there are), there are also shades of Scottish music hall, pantomime and ceilidh as well as good, old fashioned story-telling and an array of xcellent cameo characters ranging from the dubious weavers Harris and Tweed to the gullible butler and cook Mr and Mrs Mutton and the hilarious Big Jessie.

Coupled with Ian Johnston's music, it is the technical and visual inventiveness of the company which is perhaps the most pleasing aspect as a clothes rail transmogrifies into a fireside hearth, a sheep pen and a royal canopy, clothes hangers build to a forest of trees and tartan travelling rugs become kilts, shawls, bagpipes and even a fast-flowing Highland burn.

The audience becomes a flock of sheep as the children join in, as do the adults - though adults may rest assured they will not be taken onstage to be sheared.

All these elements are used to excellent comic and dramatic effect, leading to the inevitable unveiling of the Laird's new kilt.

The show would serve as a wonderful introduction to the world of theatre. It is as much an appeal to your imagination as it is a model of using it. As multi-performer and director Andy Cannon puts it at the end of the performance: "Now remember, children, DO try this at home!" Without even a prompt the six-year-old critic with me gave the show 10 out of 10.

Raymond Ross

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