Tales of a Grandson, Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Macrobert Arts Centre and Andy Cannon
Andy Cannon (writer and director), Wendy Weatherby (composer), Natasha Gilmore (choreographer), Brian Hartley (set and costume designer), Gerron Stewart (lighting designer and production manager), Carrie Taylor (stage manager), Saint (technical stage manager), Jennie Loof (costume maker), Big House (set construction), Alice McGrath, Elizabeth Fuller, Sarah Gray (producing and project management), Nicola Denman (community cast coordination), Dr. Donald Smith (mentor).
Andy Cannon (Andy), Jane Adamson, Kai Wen Chuang, Josh Houghton (Barrowland Ballet dancers), Wendy Weatherby (cello), Frank McLaughlin (guitar and small pipes), Sandy Brechin (accordion), Pablo Lafuente (guitar and fiddle), Jemma Stirling (fiddle), Eileen Penman, Gillian Macdonald, Iyaah Warren, Rosslyn Chetwynd, Val Munro (choir of grannies), Corrie de Koster, Agnes Ness, Judy Adams, Christine Thynne, Jill Knox, Sue Oliver, Colleen Pope, Rosie Orr, Kathleen Carlisle, Kathleen Buchill, Lin Grahame, Diane Mitchell, Anne Young, Chisha Ben-Tepherith, Kate Mudie, Tamarinde Haven, Susan Hay, Morna Biriell (community cast/ The Edinburgh Historical Society Ladies Wednesday Dance and Drama Group).
Running time

Mr. Cannon’s passion for all things historical is infectious, as he makes real the sort of magical history lesson you thought was only possible in your dreams.

Tales of a Grandson was performed as part of Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing festival. Aside from the growing body of evidence demonstrating that creative activity significantly contributes to successful ageing, the key message is that ‘creativity has no age’. It was particularly fitting then that Andy Cannon, Edinburgh’s very own Peter Pan of storytelling, demolished all gaps between the generations in his creative celebration of Scottish history from the Stone Age to the present day.

It was always going to be a day to remember. Andy Cannon, formerly of Wee Stories, has a well-deserved reputation as one of Scotland’s leading storytellers. He specialises in engaging the younger members of our society, but with his physically energetic and directly interactive style he draws in, scoops up and transports all ages into his distinctive world of stories. Using his memories of a weekend spent at the home of his Granny and Granddad 40 years ago as a starting point, he branched out along roads less travelled into the heart of Scotland and beyond, sweeping Scotland’s recent and ancient history into his path along the way. With all roads ultimately leading back home, he demonstrated that those stories of ordinary folk that you never find in history books, the tales perhaps told round your own family fireside, are the ones that matter most.

Told in three parts, the first two – The Dig and The Feast – evolved out of his Granddad’s shed. This little wooden hut sat unlit and unnoticed at first, the focus on a chap in high-waisted tartan trousers and braces sitting centre stage staring at a large egg timer, and two young women sitting straight and upright in the dung-coloured, loose-fitting jacket of the factory foreman. This trio of dancers from Barrowland Ballet, Glasgow, opened the afternoon’s proceedings performing a mesmerising dance that mixed contemporary, balletic and Highland Dance styles that seemed to move through time as well as space, as a metronome ticked rhythmically in the background and Wendy Weatherby plucked mournful, staccato notes on her cello.

As the dance came to its end and Mr.Cannon walked onto the floor, the shed lit up and the audience sat up – which brought to mind Scottish writer J.M. Barrie’s description of how the island ‘wakes up’ when Peter Pan returns. The Dig introduced two key concepts: the power of words and the power of the imagination. Emerging from the shed with a box, Cannon described how his granddad had told him it contained a castle. What it actually contained were words – signs to be precise, that his granddad had made depicting different areas of a castle: ‘Keep’, ‘Dungeon,’ ‘Great Hall’ and so forth. He placed these carefully about the floor, thus building his castle in which he could then enact his own child-like adventures. The second item to emerge from the shed were the ‘speculators’: a pair of goggle-like glasses that, once the imagination had been engaged, would take you back in time to wherever you wished to go.

Where we went was back to Stone-Age Cramond, and Balfarg Henge at Glenrothes where Cannon himself had witnessed a dig during the 1970’s. With a one hour’s whizz through the Picts, Romans and the smashing up of Iona by the Vikings, The Dig ended with Granny calling him in for bedtime just as he was playing Kenneth McAlpine, the first King of a united Scotland. The distribution of Tunnock’s teacakes for the audience to munch during the ensuing interval, was most fitting and much appreciated.

Part Two, The Feast, took in a visit to the old museum (now the Scottish Portrait Gallery), where we were introduced to the Edinburgh Historical Society Ladies Wednesday Dance and Drama Group. Overseen by Cannon standing on a chair with a pair of ladies’ glasses on the end of his nose, these ladies performed an enactment of Scotland’s royal succession, encompassing Robert the Bruce, all the James’s and Mary Queen of Scots – among others. The Feast ended with a practical demonstration for those wishing to immerse themselves in a bit of history but not knowing where to start. A washing line was stretched, corner to corner, across the stage and we were advised to start with a person or event in history that intrigued you. His was the execution of Charles I, and a clothes peg was placed on the line. With assistance from the audience, all other historical moments covered thus far in the performance were then organised around this point. As Mr.Cannon was this time called in for his tea, the audience filed out to partake of their own feast on the picnic tables now set up in the café and foyer areas.

On returning from our feast, the seating had been rearranged, bunting hung from the lights above and a Ceilidh band of fiddles, guitar, accordion and cello were playing in a make-shift band-stand. Part Three, The Hooly, saw the unveiling of a giant roadmap of Scotland as we relived a road-trip, in Granddad’s Hillman Imp, to Drumnadrochit and a search for Nessie. We met, as he had, the choir of grannies from the Women’s Rural Institute, who sang while they showed off their bric-a-brac, and Cannon told us stories of kelpies and selkies, ancient mountains and Thomas the Rhymer. Opportunities were also provided to get up on the floor and join in the Ceilidh shindig and everyone was given a wooden clothes-peg as they left, with which to begin their own historical journey.

A major part of Cannon’s armoury is his ability to make an audience feel completely at ease – adlibbing, dealing with heckles and interjections is all part of the territory that he traverses with absolute mastery, his quick wit and finely-tuned sense of fun and humour immediately reassuring an audience that they are in safe hands. From here, an audience will willingly go with him wherever his remarkable imagination wishes to take them. This was an exceptional afternoon-to-evening’s entertainment that provided inspiration, not only to find out more about the history of Scotland, Europe and beyond, but perhaps more importantly to talk to each other, listen to each other and to share experiences, stories and memories across the generations.

Sat 25 & Sun 26 Oct, 2014