The Voice Thief

“Good girls should be seen and not heard”. This seems to be the guiding principle behind those working at the Mackenzie Institute for the Encouragement of Vocal Harmony (MIEVH). Not so for the Catherine Wheels Theatre Company, however. With The Voice Thief, they present not only a wonderful piece of children’s theatre, but an expertly crafted promenade performance.

Never patronising and always engaging

As a part of a tour group led into MIEVH for the very first time, we are presented with a seemingly benign vocal laboratory, but dark secrets whisper from every corner: guided from room-to-room by Beatrice Mackenzie and two smiley assistants, our group is lectured, entertained and occasionally serenaded by the maverick Dr Broderick Mackenzie. In his laboratory, he ‘fixes’ the voices of girls by stripping away the ‘whiny’ and problematic parts – all, of course, with their best interests at heart. But as the tour comes to an end, a whisper in the darkness distracts and troubles Beatrice, prompting her to lead the group into the restricted areas of the laboratory.

The tour is wonderfully immersive. Care and precision has been taken with every part of the set-dressing: a copy of ‘My Fair Lady’ sits neatly on a bookcase in Dr Mackenzie’s office, and the Summerhall basement space itself is used remarkably well. Danny Krass’ sound design is the icing on the cake, with excellent speaker placement allowing the imaginations of children in the audience to be fully captured.

The performers are also to be commended. Hannah Donaldson and Isabelle Joss make the switch between the Stepford smile of creepy tour guides and the shrieks of hyperactive children effortlessly, while Amy MacGregor and Crawford Logan make an exceptional daughter-father duo. Logan’s boundless energy helps set the scene right from the off and MacGregor is the glue that holds the performance together. Audience participation was done with aplomb and all four dealt well with a particularly enthusiastic child.

Somehow, though, the ending felt abrupt. It seemed like there was a little more dialogue to come to wrap up the moral and plotline of the performance. Instead, the cast departed and it felt like some thematic threads were not quite concluded. Perhaps this was to allow you to dwell upon them yourself, but there was a sense of things being not quite finished.

However, The Voice Thief is still a tremendous experience and well-worth your time even if you don’t have children. The children in the audience were transfixed by the lights and sounds on display, while older members of the audience appreciated the more complex and darker feminist themes hinted at by the play. Never patronising and always engaging, The Voice Thief is a delight.

Reviews by James Beagon

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The Blurb

Welcome to The MacKenzie Institute for the Encouragement of Vocal Harmony, a darkly mysterious place where hundreds of girls' voices have been held captive for years. This is the first time the public have been allowed into The Institute and it may be the last… The Voice Thief is for everybody aged nine and over. ‘A fabulous fantasy you want to shout about’ ***** (Herald). ‘Everything a piece of theatre should be’ ***** (Guardian). ‘A wickedly enchanting promenade performance’ ***** (