Wrong Tree Adventures

This August, Durham-based Wrong Tree Theatre are bringing three shows to Edinburgh; currently on offer is Souvenirs, a light-hearted adventure that draws on the heavy use of props, puppetry, physical comedy and traditional storytelling techniques to advance its narrative. The Professor, a skilled botanist, is hunting for her long-missing grandfather, also a botanist, with the aid of a talking cat named Terence. On their search, which takes them to South America, the pair meet a series of quirky characters and find themselves embroiled in a criminal scheme of international proportions. Yet despite the potential for fun offered by this travelling storyline, the production is unfortunately too clumsy to take flight.

By the end of the play you will find yourself with a grudging respect for its lo-fi wackiness.

Souvenirs has multiple structural issues. More attention has been paid to individual scenes and set pieces than to the plot and consistency of the whole piece, which could be excused given that the play is so influenced by the form of sketch comedy. While the idea to loosely model the project around a sequence of sketches is strong, the segments are just too poorly integrated into the end result to be effective, leaving the structure of the performance with gaping plot holes. Pacing, notwithstanding the poor opening, is dealt with slightly more efficiently: a linear building of energy is managed well and grows fairly consistently from start to end.

Comedy is an important element of this Wrong Tree Adventure, but as with the structure we again have some problems. Many of the jokes are overly cheesy, audience interaction is unoriginal and the inclusion of animals mimed by bits of stationery is just not very funny (with the exception of two glorious tape-measure snails). But there are moments of inspiration too. Several scenes are raucously comic; particularly brilliant is the passage set in a port. An old sea captain is a terrific character, and is given a truly hilarious opening line. Outside the comedy, there are sparks of well-realised creativity. The decision to have one actor read all the lines for four plane passengers as they mime along to his words is excellent, and is evidence of the heights this production has the capability to reach.

Other than some dodgy accents, the cast are comfortable in their roles. Worth spotlighting are Angharad Phillips as the Professor, who gives a controlled and subtle performance, and Kieran Laurie who is the true comic heart of the project. The collaborative nature of the play is enjoyably clear to see – director Jazzy Price has led her team in devising the drama – with warm camaraderie visible between all members of the ensemble.

Silliness does not justify theatrical weakness. Yet even with the serious faults that run through Souvenirs, by the end of the play you will find yourself with a grudging respect for its lo-fi wackiness.

Reviews by Sam Fulton

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Performances

Location

The Blurb

A stunning amalgamation of Wrong Tree’s work to date: the Professor’s grandfather is missing – working in his old greenhouse, her quest takes her to explore South America. A prop-driven adventure piece, incorporating Inca mythology and a talking cat. Or throwing you into sea-faring life, haunting stories of lost ships, sailor limericks and sea shanties, all inspired by Du Maurier. Or launch into a tale of a man drawn into the seasons’ cycle having cheated the hangman’s noose, stories imbued with love, blood and remembrance lost with nods to ancient Norse mythology.

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