Light beams in the night sky are the first signs that something magical’s going on at Archerfield Walled Garden. Visible from afar, they signal the way to a glade where fairy folk dance, skip and fly through the trees – shy, except for when they have little people coming to visit them…
This festive family treat, produced for the East Lothian estate by Rogue Village, and performed by All or Nothing, Circus Alba, Sean Edwards & Fiona Houez, combines sound and light with fire dancing, aerial performance and dance theatre. It’s 45 minutes of woodland wonder for the wee ones, with physical theatre to impress parents too.
Guests gather for a pre-booked time-slot at the estate’s cafe and food-market, where if you’re not tempted by a warming hot chocolate or artisan foodstuffs yourself, pester power may see you buying flashing fairy wands for the kids. Silent disco headphones are then dished out for the stroll to the woods, via which fairy-hunter Gus explains the story of what’s about to happen.
Gus himself is already down in the woods, awaiting our arrival. He’s a bubbly sort of fella, passing on his fairy-hunting wisdom to the kids with visible enthusiasm, before beckoning them through the little people’s gate into the woods. Developed by Al Seed, the fairy folk we encounter are silent, enigmatic characters, performing choreographed pieces rather than mingling spontaneously. They’re styled beautifully and idiosyncratically (Becky Minto with Rebecca Hamilton & Katy Lonsdale) and perform impressively. The only pity is that there’s not more of them. The expectation is that the woods might be alive with fairies, but they’re sparse on the ground once you get there.
When fully immersed, it can be enchanting. There’s little fairy houses to nosey at, illuminated garden arches, a fairy swing, and the lights (Julian Hodgson), including fairy wings suspended in the canopy, are just the job. It’s easy for the spell to be broken though. With group sizes quite large, it’s not possible to take in the magic at your own pace; there can be some standing around waiting for performances to start. If you’re unlucky, you might be stood next to a hi-vis jacketed steward as their walkie-talkie goes off. The fairy disco finale is also a lot of fun, but the music’s modern rather than the mystical fairy music that’s been piped out on the way round. It changes the magical vibe a little.
Not that it dampens the enthusiasm of smaller fairy-hunters much. They’re keen to take it all in and explore. Just make sure you’ve a few quid spare for the “extras” though. There’s marshmallows to toast in the fire-pits at the end.