Flight of fancy to distant lands

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Tickets Please!

Giant Productions tel 0141 357 5000 www.giantproductions.org

Not all theatre companies like big audiences. Giant Productions, the Glasgow-based multi-sensory children's arts group, thinks in much the same way as Tom Stoppard, who considered that a small group of people would see a unicorn where a crowd would only see a deer with an arrow in its head.

So Giant deliberately thinks small and travels with its own little theatre, a tent about the size of a classroom.

It is a bold and credible artistic policy. Since Giant focuses on the child's experience, economies of scale that have been forced upon other theatres by lack of money are willingly espoused in the Giant credo. In fact, they might be indispensable, when you consider that smell and touch are part of its customary theatre experience.

If the theatre is as cramped as a holiday charter flight, this is only appropriate for Tickets Please!, which is set in an airport, behind the plastic flaps of the baggage carousel. The pompous supervisor (David Topliff) rules supreme, exploiting the petty rivalries of his two female assistants, whose curiosity is aroused by an ancient suitcase that remains uncollected.

It contains a handwritten and illustrated travel journal with remarkable properties. Stare at the illustrations and you are transported there in your imagination. The three in turn go to Antarctica, Tibet and the Amazon rainforest and, in these episodes, Giant creates some wonderfully inventive and engaging theatre.

The flights of imagination irresistibly sweep the audience along. The actors revel in the range of human and animal life, from penguins to yaks, from Rio carnival to a monastery in the Himalayas.

It is a triumph, too, for Colin Begg's set, which translates easily from airport to glacier or mountain path, helped by John Riddell's lighting and Topliff's music.

The visuals are compelling, and the absorption of the actors complete. Yet there is tension between the company's theory and practice. Theatre is basically a collective visual and aural exercise. Conversely, tasting, smelling and touching are private, personal experiences.

So, when we see Natalie Bennett caught in a howling blizzard, risking frostbite, we can imagine the cold. When it blows on us, we pick the pieces of paper off our clothes.

We are as excited as Abbie Wallace by the sights and smells of the Tibetan market; yet being offered a sniff ourselves is anti-climactic and momentarily take us away from what is properly theatre.

But sadly, Giant's worldwind travels end today.

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