For Families Reviews

COWBOY BABY - Catfoot Theatre Company

Credit: Sue Heap, by permission of Walker Books Ltd

The imaginative Catfoot Theatre Company transported us to the "American West - a land of cowboys" where we met Sheriff Pa (Gary Keane) and Cowboy Baby (Alison Harris).

As we entered the Paupers Pit, the small stage was set with a wagon, campfire, baked beans and two prickly cacti, with Sheriff Pa asleep onstage. Keane and Harris engaged the youngest members of the audience in particular with their energetic play fighting, sing-alongs and absorbing storytelling. In a pretend shoot-off, it was clear that Cowboy Baby wasn't quite up to his 'Cowboy' status, as, when trying to give his "full meanest stare!" Sheriff Pa asked if he had "got something wrong with your eyes, Son?" - one more insult for a character already irritated by constantly being referred to as 'baby' - "I'm six years old! I ain't a baby no more!"

Anyone expecting puppets might have been slightly disappointed by the small wooden characters of Texas Ted, Denver Dog and Hank the Horse handed out to children on the front row, amusing and cute as these were. However the children clearly felt a sense of pride at being able to help Cowboy Baby find his wooden friends later on.

Adapted from the novel by Sue Heap, Cowboy Baby reminded me at times of Aesop's fables and really lifted when Sheriff Pa got out his guitar and strummed along to a story about a coyote trying to ride on a star. The end of the play was particularly touching, with the large disco ball above the stage suddenly flashing reflections around the auditorium making the black walls and ceiling look like a starry sky. The young children were wide-eyed and open mouthed when the sheriff lassoed down a Sheriff 'star' badge and gave it to Cowboy Baby - "Now you're my deputy, Son."

It was a perfect finale for a children's performance that proved just right for all young cowboys and cowgirls.

Annie Osborne

GRANNY'S BIG TOP TALE! @ THE METHODIST - Little Pixie Productions

Granny's Big Top Tale! Little Pixie Productions

The award-winning Little Pixie Productions return to the Fringe this year with a new adventure in the company of Granny Flo and granddaughter Ruby - circus style!

Walking out of the rain into the United Reformed Church, I quickly forgot the downpour and was instead immediately immersed in a sunshiny fête, complete with raffle tickets, Morris men and a gazebo. After winning tickets to the circus in the raffle, Granny Flo reminisced about the circus she went to as a little girl, and how she wanted to be a clown. Nicole Webb (Ruby) and Rebecca Little (Granny Flo) cleverly scene-changed in character - with the pond from the fête becoming a circus trampoline and then a seat for Webb (now playing a young Flo) in the audience.

The recurring message in the play was "if you believe in yourself you can make anything happen", which the young audience lapped up, clearly enjoying being involved with pantomime-style sing-alongs and the old favourite saying-the-magic-word-all-together-to-make-the-magic-happen trick. Even very young children were entertained (with the exception of one small boy who stated quite audibly that he wanted to go home!). It's not surprising the play held the rest of the audience's attention, as it used inventive props and magic tricks, and even some shadow puppetry.

Witty one-liners (e.g. whilst ripping paper as part of a magic trick "don't try this at home - you might get a paper cut!"), slick staging and adept acting combined to make an enjoyable, nostalgic performance enlivened with contemporary cultural references. So "roll up and come into the big top!" on 23rd July (2:30pm to 3:15pm and 4:30pm to 5:15pm) but this time at Buxton Methodist Church.

Annie Osborne

LUNAR TICS by Martin Beard - Young REC Drama School

The Marquee, Poole's Cavern Grounds, Wed 14/1/11.

This is the final instalment of the trilogy, and the bold McLalllans venture, albeit accidentally, into space and end up indirectly saving the world from the dastardly Blutonians.

We begin by meeting some typical teenagers, full of enthusiasm - NOT! -with no signal or credit but plenty of raised eyes, sarcastic intonation and 'I hate you's. And wouldn't you just know it, Will, yes, the boy, presses the wrong button - oops! We're in space! Teleported! This brings our young friends into contact with the very scary queen of the Blutonians, who plan to invade Earth. I won't reveal too much, but the Earthlings and Blutonians are doppelgängers so can't really kill each other. Or can they? But who knows, there might be good Blutonians, indeed other good characters around the corner in this imaginatively written play...But why does that non-plussed looking kid keep appearing, has he forgotten his lines?

This is an imaginative project for a young group which went down well with the nearly capacity audience. Amongst such young performers a range of proficiency is understandable, as are some first-night blips, but I very much enjoyed Kaitlin Harrison-Moore as Queen Belinda the shouty evil queen, and Elizabeth Armett as Jo, one of the confused Earthlings, and I thought her namesake Ben Edmans as a Blutonian and Lucy Deardon as Lumi projected their voices very clearly. There are some slightly predictable jokes - about atmosphere, for example - and some clichéd lines - 'you'll never get away with this!' and the occasional bit of confusion about the plot - at one stage Lumi remarks 'I think I understand what's going on...' But there is a clear environmental message here too.

I love Martin Beard's space in Poole's Cavern car park, it is airy and cool and, Buxton summer permitting, is an ideal setting. The set is simple and black, highlighting the blueness of the aliens. This funny play is suitable for all the family and I recommend that you come along soon and see it. If only Zach knew which play he was in...

Ian Hamilton


Kids in Buckets

6 July 2011

Grace and Jenny, in this opening performance, reveal the natural world in a rich and playful manner. They achieve this by combining their respective strengths: Jenny as an impressive reader and performer of poetry, and Grace as a talented illustrator. As Jenny performed, Grace's illustrations were projected onto a screen - pictures such as' King Rhubarb' or the butterfly in 'Butterfly Days'.

Not every poem, however, is about nature. 'Kids In Buckets: The School Run' is about a plan hatched with 'Gran' to speed to school in bucket to beat the rain. Granddad joins in too with 'my brother. Joe' to construct a raft out of drinks cans. This embodies the way grandparents can play a role in the imaginative life of young children.' Hole in the Garden' is a monster poem with a musical dimension - it can be sung to the tune of 'There's a Hole in my Bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza'.

Music played a significant part in audience involvement and generally promoted rapport. Jenny elicited consistently and effectively as a lead in to each piece.

There are, however, aspects of the performance that needed to be addressed - in particular the staging of the event. Immediately on entering the venue it was apparent they hadn't taken ownership of the space. Seating was unhelpful, the screen was badly positioned and the audience focus was wrong.

Also endings of pieces were somewhat abrupt and the pace a little too intense. Addressing these would invite more audience involvement and reaction.

David Guise

THE BURIED MOON @ THE METHODIST - Babbling Vagabonds Storytelling Theatre

The Maiden of the Moon

Buxton Methodist Church, Sunday 10th July 2011

A trip into the wonderful world of the Buried Moon was a pure delight; family entertainment at its best! There was an audience of all ages at the Methodist Church on Fringe Sunday and the younger children in particular were enthralled by a story which had been passed down through the generations from Grandma. Some sat cross-legged on the floor at the front so as to not miss anything.

They sat spellbound for a journey into the imagination, with boggarts and boggles and the Moon Maiden, all captured with fabulous puppetry. The Babbling Vagabonds did themselves proud with an effervescent performance by both of the puppeteers. The characters came to 'life' with beautifully crafted handmade props, sound effects and voices. An extra dimension was when the puppets went behind a screen and appeared in silhouette against the Moon.

It was lovely that at the end this talented duo gave us a real insight into how this magic had been created allowing the audience a closer look at the props, the costumes of the Moon Maiden and the other characters, and the techniques they used.

This was a wonderful family show which did not disappoint. How could this Fringe treasure lay buried?

Carolyn Walker

THE CLOCK MASTER by Louisa Ashton - Sparkle and Dark's Travelling Players

credit: Shelley Knowles-Dixon

The 'For Families' section of the Fringe programme has become the place to look for top-quality entertainment in Buxton. Nestling in there this year is the return of Sparkle & Dark's Travelling Players with The Clock Master, a brilliantly realised slice of acting, storytelling, puppetry and music - all consistently great.

A mysterious figure, The Clock Master welcomes the audience to his shop, where, Bagpuss-like, each object contains a story. The arrival of a spoilt girl leads The Clock Master to tell her three such stories. These are beautifully crafted stories of magic and invention, performed by The Clock Master himself, his two companions and the girl herself. They tell the sad story of a clockwork girl given life by a thief, the heart-warming tale of a cursed princess who befriends a monkey and finds a happiness of sorts and the poignant fable of a boy who seeks a watch that can stop time. Of course, these are all just stories ... or are they?

This evening performance was watched by an adult audience, but children would also love it. It has a tone that reminded me of Neil Gaiman's novels, a visual style reminiscent of Tim Burton's animation. There are a couple of moments that could be frightening to younger children, but then again children lap up Doctor Who, the current run of which I also found this had a feel of - indeed The Clock Master himself is not altogether unlike Matt Smith's Doctor - benevolent, mercurial, but unknowable and possibly with an agenda of his own.

This show one the Fringe Award for Best New Writing last year. The writing's not so new now, but this is still one of the best shows you're likely to see in the Fringe, whatever your age.

Robbie Carnegie


The Enormous Turnip

This is exactly the kind of children's theatre that sums up the essence of the fringe. Directors and writers Sally Cancello and Kate Marlow have adapted some well know tales and brought them to life with imagination and creativity in this portmanteau of children's stories. The open space of the venue allows for a good view of the set- at the start we are taken on a journey by the Cockerel (a confident and colourful Kate Marlow) through the farm with Jack and Jill McDonald (a strong double act by Angela Pollard and Alex Reece) who introduce the excited young audience to their animals.

The use of simple but effective costumes and props makes for a visual treat- I particularly liked Lilliana the Llama's pink leggings and false eyelashes as she grazed and sang her heart out (a suitably flamboyant performance from Sarah Breen). But all is not as it seems down on the farm, when the devious Arthur Bucket reveals his plans to steal the farmers Enormous Turnip and enter it into the Derbyshire Vegetable Contest.

All children need a villain and Arthur gets his just desserts in a wonderfully choreographed piece of slow motion action to the tune of Mission Impossible, alerting the farmer and his wife to the nasty intruder and thereby foiling Arthur's dastardly plot. There's a brilliant use of puppets to play out the story of the Three Little Pigs as the Big Bad Wolf (doing a mean James Brown impression) tries to eat the little piggy's before coming to a soupy end. In a show with so many characters it's difficult and often unfair to highlight anyone - this really is an ensemble piece - however, it was a delight to see this much energy at 11am with great attention to detail from Robin Willens (wonderful make-up and costume as Derek the Sheepdog) a suitably bored Sheep getting her knitting out (Janet Thomson) and a cute and fluffy Piglet (a young Maddie Hunt).

As with many of these adaptations, it's the audiences willingness to participate and this is never forced but felt natural to suddenly start singing The Wiggly Worm song along with everyone else. There's a chance for the children to shout out or get up on stage and help the Farmer to water his vegetables that gets the audience in the mood for another sing-a-long. This show appeals to the youngster in everyone and it's suitable for toddlers and kids up to 8 and their parents. The show ends with a full sing-song that you can't fail to join in with and you'll leave smiling with contented kids as the characters say goodbye at the door. At 45 minutes this is exactly the right length for this age group. Get your tickets now, at £4 it's certainly great value and restores your faith in live theatre.

At Bath Road Church Centre. Check the fringe brochure for times.

Jason Hudson

TIME TRAIL - Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

Roman soldier in Buxton Museum & Art Gallery (credit: Derbyshire County Council)

I spent an interesting half hour at the Buxton Museum this afternoon attempting to complete the six challenges which constitute the 'Time Trail' at the Buxton Museum. Lots of fun!

Set up as part of the BBC Dig! and Hands on History project and the Festival of British Archaeology event, this is an intriguing exercise designed to take visitors into different rooms in the museum and to explore.

The six challenges are set in different locations throughout the building and my first task was to find them. The first was pretty obvious, in the foyer itself, set amongst the Andrea Joseph, 'Strictly Ballpoint' display. I did manage, in the end, to complete the challenge and put a sticker onto my score sheet, but I have to admit, I had to ask for some help from a couple who had come to see the exhibit.

However, undaunted, I moved on and walked around corners peering into each room looking for the next challenge, the Prehistoric Physical Challenge. This one was pretty easy. So with confidence and with a second sticker in place, I moved onto the next.

Found it! I had to make a Victorian Silhouette and was told in the instructions that I should ask a friend to sit and show their profile. Unfortunately, today, I was Billy-no-Mates, so I used a bust in room, probably of someone famous.

The next three challenges were all upstairs, the Georgian Spot the Difference, the Roman jigsaws and to find a Secret Message using a microscope. I succeeded with the first two but failed the third. Even with the help of two interested onlookers, I struggled to decrypt the task and so I returned to the front desk in the foyer, disappointed at having collected only five out of six stickers.

I was embarrassed, when I was told what I had been doing wrong and realised that an 8 year old would not have over-complicated the task, as I had done. However, I still had my certificate signed and left with my BBC "I had my hand on History" badge.

The Time Trail challenge is a terrific idea both in terms of the activities themselves but it also gave the participants the opportunity to take in much more of what was in the museum at the time, including the Derbyshire Open (with the Pig in the Trolley and the 'Grow Your Own' wooden table) and many other interesting exhibits in the many rooms and nooks in the space. It's a real pity that it was only happening today.

Martin Wood