Edinburgh-based company Tortoise in a Nutshell can be relied upon to deliver fabulously executed, thoughtful theatre and this year’s Fringe production is no different. The Lost Things is tucked away, past Cirque Berserk, in a purpose built space at the Pleasance outpost at the EICC. Even the audience’s entry to the performing space is carefully choreographed and sets the deliciously unsettling tone for the show.
Scripted by Oliver Emanuel of last year’s EIF hit show Flight, The Lost Things tells a cautionary tale of a boy who runs away to escape being told off – and ends up in a peculiar dark underworld of ladders, tracks, trains, lost car keys, wedding rings and endless darkness. Once seated (cushions on the floor though there are likely to be alternatives if that doesn’t suit you), we find ourselves immersed in this world, troubled only by where to look first amidst this visual feast.
The two performers, Arran Howie and Alex Bird are both actors and puppeteers. For this is first and foremost a puppet show, albeit a brilliantly immersive one. The puppets are gorgeous – beautifully observed, skillfully operated and charmingly endearing. With the possible exception of the scary thing – and the less said about that, the better. Suffice to say that this production yielded my first almost scream this Fringe.
Howie is gauche and tentative in his attempts to befriend the mysterious girl he meets in the underworld. A carefully engineered soundtrack gives us an indication of what he’s really escaping, making his eventual fate all the more heart-stopping. Bird is brilliantly, haughtily aloof until Howie eventually wins her approval.
Designer Amelia Bird must have had a ball creating this imaginary world. The performing space envelops the audience. The set, perfectly crafted props and costumes have a steampunk feel to them which appeals to the adult audience as much as to the younger members. (The show is recommended for children aged nine and up.) Director Ross MacKay has made excellent use of the space so, just as we’re warned before the show begins, the action surrounds the audience. And Simon Wilkinson’s lighting directs our attention to help the story along.
An immersive puppet show is a rare thing for wholly understandable reasons. A well-crafted script, a visually rich world and brilliant story-telling make for a perfectly formed production. Borrow children if you need an excuse but you could just go support a local company with a track record of inventive, heart-warming theatre.