Nanny Lacey lives alone though her daughter, Bella, often pops in. As time goes by, she begins to struggling looking after herself; forgetting to eat, letting the bills heap up. She likes nothing better than remembering the past – sometimes more real to her than the here and now – and she captures her memories in tiny, perfectly crafted models. These include favourite holidays, Christmas trees, and even Bella’s first outing on her brand new bicycle (with stabilisers!). We’re welcomed into her house to hear about one final adventure.
Small Wonders from London-based company, Punchdrunk, could not be a finer addition to Imaginate’s Children’s Festival programme in Edinburgh. Punchdrunk specialise in producing site-specific immersive theatre and have created pieces for young theatre goers. Four years ago, they partnered with the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to make an immersive story for families, Against Captain’s Orders. This new work was developed a year ago in association with Tottenham Uplifters who work with the local community to create memorable experiences.
Aimed at 6 to 12 year-olds (no adults without children are allowed in, I’m afraid), the show starts in Nanny Lacey’s house – to be found inside a warehouse in Leith. We’re ushered to her front door, someone is instructed to ring the doorbell, and we’re welcomed as neighbours into her front room. Kate Rigby, the show’s designer, must have had enormous fun assembling the set. Adorned with doilies, decorated cushions, Spurs annuals – and not forgetting the assorted jumble of a life long-lived and of course the precious collection of miniatures – the living room will find you fighting over what to look at first. And the fridge will blow your mind.
The show is exquisitely engineered. It features the sort of acting where two minutes in, you’ve entirely forgotten that this isn’t actually Nanny Lacey (Liz Watts-Legg) and her frayed-at-the-edges daughter, Bella (Sarah Akokhia). The sound design by Salvador Garza is artful low-level atmosphere; perfectly, unobtrusively accentuating the story-telling. There’s even a functioning telephone. The script keeps the whole audience happy. There are more enough fart jokes, vomit references and forest romps to keep the littlest audience members chortling. But like the best children’s theatre, there’s more than enough messy, unforgiving life in there to keep older audience members riveted. And Nanny’s final adventure had more than this adult snuffling shamelessly at its conclusion.
Small Wonders is a tale of getting old, memories and memory loss and it’s a boisterously joyous tribute to the power of imagination. Revelling in children’s guileless credulity, creators Tara Boland, Peter Higgin and Nessah Muthy question whether the world wouldn’t be a better place if we could all remember how to flee to a marvellous magical world when we needed to.