The Fringe can go from glitter and glamour to paper and cardboard at the turn of a corner, but in the case of Scottish Theatre Company Tortoise in a Nutshell, their use of simple materials belies the depth of their work. Their current show, Grit, deals with the effects of war on children, not just those on the front line but those left at home while a parent is posted abroad.
The story opens in a set made up of cardboard boxes with the war photographer (Matt Leonard Hall) sitting among them looking at photos, as one does when at the time of a death and in the process of moving on. The near life-size puppet of Amy, his daughter, is lovingly brought to life through the sensitive skills of puppeteers Arran Howie and Alex Bird as she in turn slowly and sadly goes through more photos.
The memories triggered by the photos, that have been fantastically created by illustrator, Rosie Cunningham, are manifested on stage as Howie and Hall play toy soldiers as innocent schoolboys. This array of war images are displayed with great technical skill, creating a catalogued gallery with these and subsequently with children’s drawings.
A sand pit where a boy plays, his childish sounds being made by the puppeteer, with bucket and spade is juxtaposed with barbed wire and in the blink of an eye a safe and happy environment becomes a war zone. The symbolism of homes and building collapsing like their paper imitations that are mowed down and bombed by cardboard tanks is not lost.
With a voice over from the war photographer to Amy in the form of a taped message, this otherwise almost wordless performance speaks loudly of the talent of this young company that brings touching humanity to wood and papier maché.
This is the company’s third Edinburgh Festival Fringe, returning after their 2010 success with The Last Miner which was shortlisted for the Arches Brick Award UK. Tortoise In A Nutshell has been invited to present work at Figura Theaterfestival in Baden, Switzerland, the first and only UK company to have this prestige. Their work is one of six pieces shortlisted for the Europe-wide award for emerging visual theatre and puppetry companies, the Grunschnabel Award.
5-25 August (not 12), 8pm-8.40pm