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Theatre that's simply Red

Brian Hayward reports on an engaging production which sets out to prove that in space, you can indeed get a life

Catherine Wheels Theatre Company has brought off a brilliant hat-trick of children's theatre, following its Red Balloon and Martha with the simply titled but very engaging Red. Jokily advertised with the slogan "In Space, No One Can Hear You Bicker", they send off twin sisters in a spaceship with the mission of finding a life form before they can come home.

The scenario is becoming almost a formula for the company (and psychiatrists) - dysfunctional adults being healed by their interaction with an animal, like Martha and the goose.

That said, what Catherine Wheels does is light years away from "formula theatre". They spent four weeks devising the play, investigating the nuances of the characters and their situation, before dramaturge Paul Fitzpatrick handed them the script for the two weeks of rehearsal.

The result is a beautifully observed, finely tuned piece of total theatre, complemented by its design, soundtrack and light control that by its sheer quality holds parents, teachers and children rapt from start to finish. The final seal of quality comes in their restraint, in the delicate and understated accuracy of Iain Reekie's production, which demands and rewards the spectator's absorption.

Life in the spaceship is governed by the Voice, whose bland tones pattern thir day. They wake up to Radio Space and its celestial jingles, sing their salute, hand on heart, to the Space Federation, carry out their emergency stop routine and go out through the airlock into weightless space in their futile search for life.

Frustration and homesickness are eating away at the sisters and the partnership is fast dissolving into hostility, founder member Gill Robertson and Helen Devon playing against each other with the rapport of twins who have shared a confined space for too long.

Then, in an intriguing episode that adds a touch of fear to excitement, one of their specimen rocks breaks open and enter Red, a kind of barbered, crimson space poodle, who can fly upside down, stretch his ears and probably take a certificate in counselling.

Red is the invention of puppeteer Shona Reppe, who has created a space dog of subtle sensibility, with a sense of humour to match. Now the sisters vie for his affections as they speed back to Earth, until Red's response to the near collision with the meteorite, and afterwards to the mournful song of the great egg-layer in the sky, teaches the siblings something about being human.

TOUR DETAILS

Melrose, October 7

Tron Theatre, Glasgow, October 8

Paisley, October 14

Glenrothes, October 16

East Kilbride, October 21

Tron Theatre, Glasgow (schools), October 23

Catherine Wheels, tel 01620 829697

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