A historic and unimaginably terrible disaster, ethereally beautiful puppetry and a fable of childhood innocence in a world of war. Incongruous factors which upon initial consideration do not appear a winning formula for a Fringe show appropriate for children and adults alike. Mastering the exacting balance between education and emotion, and truth and innocence is a particular challenge for this sort of show; one which, in this case, is achieved.
Laid over an ever present, carefully orchestrated musical underscore, which was provided by skilful guitar and cello music, Louisa Ashton's writing formed the basis of the 'Girl With No Heart' fable. Simultaneously a simple tale of childhood longing and dreams and a metaphor for something larger, darker and deadlier, 'The Girl With No Heart' achieves that which few stories do; layers of meaning and a universal appeal. Interludes of storytelling staged centrally around a large open book provide the lightness and dreamy appeal necessary when surrounded by the terrors of war and successfully illustrate that even in the darkest of places, childhood imagination is eternal.
Such moments of lightness and fun between the children (Ike, Samura and Shimbo) are starkly contrasted with the rawer message 'A Girl With No Heart' portrays. Under threat of the terrifying 'Adult Army,' (who do not understand the world as children do, seeking only to tear apart their hearts) the children struggle and falter. Even in isolation such a message would achieve poignance with an audience, however with the background of atomic warfare, mentions of 'playing in the ash' and the 'great, hot explosions' achieve greater significance, giving the piece its more adult appeal.
The strength of the narrative, though central in the show's success, pales into insignificance when set against the interesting and clear production values. Carefully constructed shadow puppetry capable of portraying the beauty of nature and the terror of nightmare creatures, is used to great effect alongside skilfully interwoven and expertly crafted physical puppetry. The suspension of disbelief such production elements inspire in the audience only adds to the feeling of the imagined and the temporary nature of the present.
Despite this, the steady and unfaltering pace of the show, together with its length could be seen to prevent this piece from being the full riot of imagination and hope it has the potential to be. However ultimately this does not take away from the skilful and emotional storytelling of 'A Girl With No Heart.' Educational, innocent and gorgeous- a must see.