It’s a real shame temporary roadworks make accessing this show’s venue ever-so-slightly off-putting; also, that the venue is still relatively new, especially when it comes to putting on festive fair, and is up against highly marketed venues such as the King’s. Nevertheless, if you manage to find your way to The Studio on Potterrow, part of the city’s Festival Theatre, you’re in for a show with more heart and thought than most.
The cast are uniformly engaging
“The Steadfast Tin Soldier” was Hans Christian Andersen’s first children’s story, so it’s appropriate that Mike Kenny’s new adaptation is the foundation for Scotland’s leading disability-led theatre company Bird of Paradise’s first winter show especially aimed at children. The story was a childhood favourite of director Garry Robson, not least because it resonated with him because it had a “disabled”, abandoned hero—and a conclusion which, while sad, nevertheless felt emotionally “real”. This new telling, using a combination of narrative, original live music by Lauren Gilmour and Audrey Tait, and puppets by the award-winning Victor Nikonenko, retains both.
Added resonance is given through the show’s framing device, in which the cast play a gang of outcast, disabled kids housed in “the Place”—an orphanage, although it’s location is left deliberately vague—who entertain themselves and bond over telling tales from a battered copy of “The Bumper Book of Children’s Stories”. We’re told central character Jack, played by BOP’s co-artistic director Robert Softley Gale, once hated, but now loves, the story of The Tin Soldier. Part of the reason why he and his slightly rebellious cast retell the story now is to explain why he changed his mind.
The titular tin soldier is incomplete, made from “left-overs”, and thrown out of the nursery for being “different”; this production doesn’t hide the parallels to disability in even the 21st century, although the script successfully balances the original tale’s timeless narrative with more current concerns. The cast are uniformly engaging, although Caroline Parker is a particular vision in purple as the principal BSL-signer. The result is an engaging and satisfying piece of theatre.