Worth queuing in the rain

28th August 1998 at 01:00
Philippa Davidson reports from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

The only antidote to poor weather at the Edinburgh Festival is to dive into a show - if you can. There were certainly no dampened spirits in the long ticket queues for Fringe events and, with more choice than ever, it was encouraging to witness people jostling for seats to see youth productions often in preference to professional shows.

Now in its 19th year, Leicestershire Youth Arts (St Ann's Community Centre) drew capacity audiences for its children's shows Jungle Book and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Both bore the group's trademarks - excellent teamwork, stylish dance and mime routines - but the latter seemed to engage the audience more successfully. In Jungle Book, animal masks were abandoned in favour of more subtle character portrayal, but children expecting a recreation of the Disney film were disappointed - this version is definitely Kipling. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe encapsulated perfectly the magical qualities of the Kingdom of Narnia and held the children rapt throughout. LYA's show for the final week is Peter Pan.

Even with the National Youth Music Theatre absent for the bulk of the Festival there was no shortage of big musicals. Cambridge University ADC presented Sondheim's Into the Woods, in my view more enjoyable than the professional version of a few years ago. The intimacy of the George Square Theatre enabled the lyrics to be heard and the energy of the cast brought to life Sondheim's witty score.

Across the Square at Southside Community Centre C-NRG Productions staged Return to the Forbidden Planet - noisy, brash and irresistible to rock 'n' roll enthusiasts. Basically a series of hits from the Fifties and Sixties linked by cleverly plagiarised Shakespeare quotations, it has a preposterous story that needs to be conveyed in a completely outrageous fashion. The dance routines could be more imaginative but the cast (based at Bath University) has several members who have perfected the Fifties style, notably the Captain (Alex Donald) and Cookie (Andrew Webster).

The Realistic Theatre Company (Southside Community Centre) never seems to get the audiences it deserves, possibly because its material has been over- ambitious in recent years. To mark the group's fifth anniversary, directors Jonathan Rhodes and Mitch Jenkins have revived The Railway Children, their first and possibly best show. Full of gentle, singable melodies, this is a succinct if sentimental version of E Nesbit's classic. The main roles (particularly Mother and all three children) are beautifully interpreted and sung by this small group of talented performers from the Lothian region.

There were more children's classics from Stirling Youth Theatre who had to contend with a restless audience of under-fives for their Pooh and Friends at the Theatre Workshop, Hamilton Place. The adaptation was thoughtfully done by a member of the cast and everyone obviously realised that there is more to the nonchalant Pooh, fussy Rabbit and dismal Eeyore than a furry animal costume. However, the show needed more songs like "Whatever's the matter with Mary Jane" to hold the attention of such young children.

By contrast, Chicken Shed's Darnaby and the Space Race (Pleasance) didn't give any children a chance to get bored. Making its debut at the Festival, the London company bombarded the audience with action song, loud music and special effects.

More young groups, for example those from Shrewsbury School and the North London Collegiate School, arrive for the final week. The fact that venues now charge on average Pounds 7 per ticket for a student show means that everyone has to work harder to produce something that not only benefits the company but gives the audience value for money. If the queues for the most popular shows are anything to go by, the standard is improving all the times.

All shows apart from 'Pooh and Friends' continue until the end of the Festival

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