Time for the Tin Soldier

Dec 7 2017 | By More

Birds of Paradise retell Hans Christian Andersen for the stage

The Festival Theatre Studio is being taken over by Birds of Paradise theatre this December with a brand new adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s first ever story for children – The Steadfast Tin Soldier.

The play, The Tin Soldier, is adapted by Mike Kenny, the prolific children’s theatre playwright who was behind the Olivier award winning adaptation of The Railway Children. Direction comes from Garry Robson, with his co-artistic director at BOP, Robert Softley Gale, on stage.

Joseph Brown and Robert Softley Gale with The Tin Soldier. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

The play is set in a children’s home where the kids are retelling The Indomitable Tin Soldier – a story they love because it’s truthful, according to Robson. It’s about someone who’s a wee bit different and it reminds them of how important it is to be kind and look after one another.

It is the story of two people who find each other in a rough tough world, although, like winter, nothing lasts forever in this magical tale of derring do, devotion and never giving up.

The show has roots way back, when Robson and Softley Gale first started with BOP. They developed a project in St Petersburg working with Russian theatre makers and, as part of this, spent time in an institution for deaf and disabled children.

“There were no fostering arrangements for these kids,” remembers Robson, “no move-on or any support for independent living. This would be their home for their lives. The Institutes were poorly staffed and so for support the children would form their own family groups and after lights out would tell each other stories often based around fairy tales.”

the Russian connection

When they were developing the idea of a children’s show Robson spoke to Mike Kenny, who agreed it would be a good starting point for a show. They share a love of Anderson, the “archetypal Ugly Duckling”, and Robson had always loved the story of The Indomitable Tin Soldier because it featured a disabled character centre stage.

Robert Softley Gale, Lauren Gilmour, Joseph Brown, Audrey Tait and Caroline Parker. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

“Through the St Petersburg project I ended up directing a show in Tomsk, Siberia,” Robson adds. “My designer was acclaimed artist and puppet maker Viktor Nonenko and we invited Viktor to design the show and create the puppets thus continuing the Russian connection.”

Although this is the first show for children from BOP – and some of their productions such as the recent Blanche & Butch have had a decidedly grown up flavour – Robert Softley Gale remembers that he and Robson first met working on a Christmas show.

“It always struck me as a powerful way to reach young people and their families and to give them a positive message about disability while having fun,” says Softley Gale. “The story of The Tin Soldier is ideal because it has a lot to say about difference – perceived or actual.

“The music is stunning – it has a strong feel of Moana about it, so for young children it should give the show a lot of energy. And the story is enchanting, thrilling, a little bit scary and often hilarious.”

strong alternative

The result, with Softley Gale joined on stage by Joe Brown, Lauren Gilmour and Caroline Parker, with live music provided by Gilmour and Audrey Tait, promises to be a strong alternative to the more traditional pantomime.

Here is a great bunch of characters, themselves telling a plot-driven narrative using live music and puppets. However, Robson hopes that the production can do more than tell a great story well.

“All our shows are about creating great theatre that reaches out to the widest possible audience using music, humour and stories that speak to people in the here and now,” he says.

“Increasingly, children are meeting disabled people in their communities and no longer seeing them as figures of fear or fun.

“However, sadly the past few years has seen a rise in disability hate crime and it felt important for young people to see a show that contained positive images of disabled people, where they had agency but also where they were as wise or as daft, as funny or as unpleasant as everyone is. Neither angels or demons but like everyone else somewhere in between.”

key collaborators

The production comes as Birds of Paradise has been announced as one of the key collaborators with the National Theatre of Scotland as the companies bring a co-produced adaptation of My Left Foot to the fringe: My Left Right Foot: The Musical.

Director Garry Robson on the set of The Tin Soldier. Pic: Andy Catlin

What unifies both projects, according to Softley Gale, is the way they carry the BOP mantle of putting disabled people’s stories on stage.

“The variety of these stories is fundamental as we keeping showing audiences that there’s no single ‘disabled experience’,” he says. “Instead we are soldiers in fairy tales, children in Russian orphanages, we are Irish writers from the 50s and 60s. We are everywhere – and we always have been.

“They’re both also about staging high quality work that audiences will want to see – I think people presume that we as a company are out to shock or grab attention just because we can.

“I think it’s much simpler than that – we want people’s gut reaction to hearing about our next show to be utter excitement rather than trepidation or fear of worthiness.”

The Tin Soldier
The Studio at Festival Theatre, 22 Potterrow, EH8 9BL. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000
Thursday 7 – Saturday 23 December.
Tue-Sat Evenings: 7pm; Matinees: 2pm Thu 14, Fri 15, Wed 20, Thu 21, Fri 22 and Sat 23 December.
Tickets and details: www.edtheatres.com/thetinsoldier.

Birds of Paradise website: www.boptheatre.co.uk.
Facebook: @birdsofparadisetheatre
Twitter: @boptheatre


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