‘Will Tell and the Big Bad Baron’ (Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – Doonstairs, until AUG 26)

“An August without Theatre Fideri Fidera would be like the Edinburgh Tattoo without bagpipes.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

For our family there’s one theatre company at EdFringe which is officially unmissable. For their 2022 offering the Brighton-based family firm are returning to themes inspired by their Anglo-Swiss heritage. I’m not sure I could have told you before now that the legend of William Tell, the archer famous for his apple-shot, was Swiss or that he used a crossbow. Like our own Robin Hood, Tell is remembered as a freedom fighter, a people’s champion loved by the good feared, by the bad.

We enter to find an upturned soapbox, that symbol of plain-speaking and fearless truth-telling of which ex-PM John Major was so fond. There’s also a sign informing the citizenry that from here on in they are to bow, genuflect, and kowtow to the feathery hat of Bad Baron Boris (I’ve heard it might just have easily been Bad Baron Donald but Boris is a funnier name) which is hanging on one of the sign’s corners. It is a very silly hat. Flanking the soapbox and sign are two stone towers. I spend more than a little time trying to figure out if these are made of real stone or if they are painted. Obviously it’s the latter, but this precision and attention to detail speak quiet volumes about Theatre Fideri Fidera’s approach to their craft.

Over a rachus, occasionally ridiculous, and always entertaining hour we meet young Will who must rescue her father and free the princess from Baron Boris’ castle. Natasha Granger and Jack Faires are reunited with that same spell binding on-stage partnership we saw in ‘Ogg ’n’ Ugg and the World’s First Dogg’. Natasha is the Portland Vase of playacting – so delicate, so intentional, so well defined, classic yet immediate. She has a lovely way of bringing groups of children onto the stage and weaving them into the magic and fun. Daughters 1.0 (7yrs) and 2.0 (4yrs) were brought up to help Will don his suit of armour from a collection of colanders, dustbin lids etc. and (obviously) that was the best bit of the show. Jack Faires is big, bold, and brilliant as both the baron and his beautiful (in her own special way) daughter. It’s a pleasure to boo him with all one’s might.

Daughter 1.0 had this to say in her notebook: “In Will Tell and the big bad baron Will’s Dad was toled (by the baron) to fire a arrow in to an apple on Will’s head. And he was traped and my sister helped her to get dressed. She rode on a donkey Rosina Who was made of a bike. She had a fight with the baron and saved his dauter Who was traped too! And then she found her Dad in a dundion. And afder that they all went home together. I loved it!”

An August without Theatre Fideri Fidera would be like the Edinburgh Tattoo without bagpipes. Their sets and puppetry are second to none. They’ve roared out of lockdown doing what they do best, making children laugh while they think – or should that be think while they laugh?


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+3 Review: Oskar’s Amazing Adventure (Gilded Balloon Teviot: Until 27 Aug: 11.50: 40min)

“The highest praise I can think of is to jump up and down in my seat squealing ‘Again! Again!'”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

It’s the middle of a hard winter in Switzerland. The little house on the top of the mountain is snowbound. Oppressed with cabin fever, fun loving puppy Oskar runs off in search of new friends to play with.

The show is based on the picture book by celebrated children’s author Colin Granger. Colin is of course a part owner of Komedia Brighton, and (once upon a time) was the author of the Heinemann English Grammar (which is yet to be dramatised for the stage). All the original characters are present, including Oskar, his friend the Marmot, the hungry Fox, Grandma, the chickens, the other puppies. The only exception is Mrs Goat who lost her seat on the tour bus to Colin.

We enter to find an alpine backdrop hung from rustic timbers. In front is a canvas pyramid with three of the four sides painted with a particular scene from the narrative that is about to unfold. With the occasional turn of this pyramid by performer Natasha Granger, Oskar’s story is revealed. Not since the Pharaoh Khufu walked out of Dunbar and Sons onto Morningside Road, having just purchased the ultra deluxe funerary care package, has a pyramid been put to such effective use.

This production is a grace and flavour mansion giving Colin Granger’s charming narrative a home away from home. The grace is delivered by his daughter Natasha whose fluid movement melts in and out of the liquid lighting and soundscape. The flavour is unmistakably alpine – crisp, simple, elegant. The interplay of stagecraft and performance is balanced and nuanced. The puppetry (including some shadow play on one side of the pyramid) empowers rather than overpowers. The effect is hugely satisfying, whether this is your first ever show or simply your latest.

It’s a safe bet that the Children’s section of the Fringe guide is the growth area to watch and shows like Oskar’s are in the vanguard. A glance at the reviews on EdFringe.com reveals where that vanguard will encounter the sharpest slings and arrows. Audiences love this show (as they should). The “professionals” are noticeably less excited. Why would they be? It’s fairly obvious that they weren’t accompanied by a reliable preschooler.

You might have noticed that it’s really quite expensive to come to Edinburgh in August and this is true for pundits as well as for producers and punters. Bringing a kid along too (without the support of local grandparents in residence) is a big ask, but it must be better answered. As the children’s section of the Fringe guide grows, reviewers and their publishers need to be much better at reflecting the artistry and talent that shows intended for younger audiences are already delivering.

This was my own preschooler’s first ever live show and I am so massively grateful to Theatre Fideri Fidera for making it such a positive and memorable experience for us both. Oskar’s Adventure may not strike a jaded 20-something as particularly amazing, but for preschoolers first noticing the big wide world (and for those of us privileged to attend them on their journey) the perspective offered is just right. The highest praise I can think of is to jump up and down in my seat squealing “Again! Again!”



Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 23 August)