There’s a difference between childish and childlike. The first indicates immaturity, the second, having the positive qualities/imaginative capacity of a child. Good fairytales are not, in fact childish, but childlike, sequestering wisdom in fanciful, often extremely dark stories. The Scottish troop, Tortoise in a Nutshell, embraces the latter.
Matthew Leonard sits at a drawing board creating simple line portraits of our hero, Joe, his sister, Dawn, their parents, and the quiet, idyllic seaside town in which they live. These appear on a screen suspended above. As he draws, Alex Bird and Arran Howie construct the town on the tilted board. Buildings are 3-D wood and cardboard line drawings that slot into the table. Some light up inside. We see a pub, butcher shop, bakery, church, hair salon…
Small figures/townspeople and animals are also slotted in, appearing on screen (by way of phone cameras). Vehicles move along tracks engineered from below. People get on and off buses. We hear all the sounds of an active village from seagulls, a ship’s horn, and waves to bike bells, barking dogs, a lawnmower, background voices. (Music/Sound Design-Jim Harbourne) Joe and Dawn appear at home and in town.
“It’s a beautiful morning down here at the pier…” begins a radio announcer. “Later on we’ll be talking to Mayor Postelwhite about a major new development…Ladies and gentlemen, this is the dawning of a new age of prosperity…” Signs begin to appear in shop windows. Much of the community is against building of Supercade, a mega store and amusement center by the water. The newspaper levels accusations of misused funds.
Nonetheless, the facilities open. We hear carnival sounds, see colored lights. Implication of ancillary structures and services pervades. It’s not long before small businesses have to close because of flashy competition.
Depression seeps in. The priest himself carries a sign stating The End is Nigh. Powerful corporate/political forces have squashed family establishments in the name of progress. Citizenry appears helpless…until an unseen person or persons takes things into vigilante hands, lighting a fire.
Just as the not so surreptitious spread of development seems unstoppable, the fire can’t be contained. Nobody wins. A moral tale for our time. That all this is depicted in dimensional cartoon form does nothing to diminish its effect. In fact, innocent visuals emphasize our impotence. Though cameras could be more precise, the fable, with next to no dialogue, clearly and cleverly gets its point across.
Photos by Amy Downes
FERAL Devised by Tortoise in a Nutshell Directed by Ross Mackay Alex Bird, Jim Harbourne, Arran Howie, Matthew Leonard, Ross Mackay Scenic Design-Amelia Bird; Lighting Design-Simon Wilkinson
Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters
Through June 9, 2019