Before audiences step foot into the SpaceUK’s Annexe, a tune from a nearby keyboard drifts out of the theatre and floats down the hall to greet the audience. Once inside, a picture book sits atop a classic wooden trunk — inviting us to see (and listen to) the story of The Little Iceberg.
A family-friendly celebration of song
Based on a picture book published in the summer of 2020, composer Siobhan Argyle's musical adaptation turns the tale into a family-friendly celebration of song with a desire to leave audiences' hearts “a bit more open.” The project is produced by connected baby, an organisation dedicated to finding creative ways to reach the public through the intersection of science and art, with the new musical seeking to metaphorise and further validate the complex feelings of young children through periods of fear, abandonment, and isolation.
The result is a sweet and gentle musical storybook represented by two-dimensional illustrated sets, notably clever ensemble-driven storytelling, and catchy musical melodies. The story is simple: a lonely little iceberg learns to overcome her fears through the companionship of a little bird who daily perches on her ice. While the specific details of those fears could benefit from a little more clarity and narrative development, the success of the piece falls heavily on its ability to exhibit emotional intelligence in a way that is simple enough to be understood by the youngest audiences members and thoughtful enough to remain engaging for the oldest.
The production is smart to keep its theatrics within what is accomplishable in the Fringe setting. Several pieces of iceberg flats are combined around a ladder to make an unexpected and impressive structure, the keyboard accompaniment is occasionally joined by an onstage cajon and sidelined by flashes of complicated a cappella hamonies, and the choreography feels dynamic givin the modest spatial limitations. Still, the piece would be just as well suited for a classroom or library; that informal setting — without the separation of a lit stage and a shadowed audience — may bring the young audience (and those still young at heart) even deeper into this imagined story world.
As our picture book closes on a story of hope through friendship against an ocean of solitude, The Little Iceberg Musical encourages us to breathe in order to weather the storm, and to find strength in the compassion we share with ourselves and others. The performance bookends with a new invitation as the young audience members are able to join the cast onstage, embracing the imaginative spirit of live theatre before returning to the big wide world with a little more courage.