Feral, Traverse Theatre, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Tortoise in a Nutshell & Cumbernauld Theatre
Ross Mac Kay (director), Amelia Bird (designer), Simon Wilkinson (lighting designer), Jim Harbourne (composer), JJ McGregor (production manager), Andy Gannon (technical manager), Miriam Attwood (PR Manager). Devised and conceived by the company.
Alex Bird, Arran Howie, Matthew Leonard (puppeteers)
Running time

Winner of a Fringe First Award at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, Feral is the latest production from Edinburgh-based company Tortoise in a Nutshell, in collaboration with Cumbernauld Theatre.

This is a really ingenious little piece of visual theatre: thoughtfully and cleverly constructed, with a decent and relevant storyline, and an imaginative use of various bits of impressive modern technology that imbue these strong basics with magic and surprises.

The centre-piece of this production looks a bit like a flying saucer or a giant, upside-down insect: a grey, sloping, semi-circular structure with 6 or 7 anglepoise lamps arranged above it representing, in this analogy, the insect’s legs. On each side of the stage area is a desk-and-laptop combo and a large, currently blank screen, almost unnoticed at first, is hovering centre-top.

When the company entered to take up their positions, there was a sense that they might be manning the mainframe on the mother ship and preparing for take-off. In a way, they were. What followed was the creation and destruction of a model town, in front of our eyes, with close-up images projected as a film onto the central screen.

The anglepoise lamps and accompanying coloured filters were used to great effect to shed atmospheric lights onto the cardboard cut-out shops, high-rise flats and characters. The first part of the production is quaintly reminiscent of Trumpton or Camberwick Green (for those old enough to remember!) as we are taken on a little tour around the butcher’s, the baker’s, the women gossiping in the hairdresser’s and the vicar contemplating the loveliness of it all, with a squirrel.

The creation of the cardboard pier, complete with a helter-skelter and fairy lights was almost tearfully nostalgic – particularly when you got a whiff of the candyfloss/toffee apple smell that simultaneously pervaded the auditorium.

The beginning of the end for this old-fashioned town comes in the form of the long-awaited ‘Supercade’: a large, soulless, concrete lump with dully flashing lights inside that locals quickly dub ‘super disappointment’. What follows, sadly, has been acted out in towns and cities across the whole of mainland Britain (as Mary Portas can attest). The hairdresser’s is replaced by a job centre; the newsagent’s becomes ‘Bonga Pay Day Loans’; the pier and fish and chip shop close down and youngsters, drunk, are either throwing up in the street or shagging up against a wall.

As the happy, excited sounds of the end-of-the-pier-fairground-attractions are substituted for the wail of police sirens, the riots begin. The town is smashed, looted, graffitied and burnt; the final image a sad reminder of the scenes in England the summer before last.

This production leaves you in a melancholic frame of mind, yet pondering that the ‘modern’ world that created such aberrant, depressing alienation is also responsible for the beautiful, charming and resourceful creativity witnessed tonight.

Runs 15th – 16th Nov