Lightning Ridge

Aug 29 2023 | By More

★★★★☆      Evocative

Summerhall (Venue 206 Fri 4 – Sun 20 Aug 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

Lightning Ridge, Catherine Wheels’ adaptation of Pobby and Dingan, Ben Rice’s novella for young people, is a remarkably involved piece of storytelling about imagination, loss and the nature of community.

Performed as solo piece by Gill Robertson, this is the second time the company has tackled the novella. Back in 2010, Robertson directed an award-winning four-handed version, as Pobby and Dingan (Catherine Wheels get another TMA Award).

Gill Robertson in Lightning Ridge from Catherine Wheels. Pic: Brian Hartley

Now Robertson takes it on herself to conjure up life in the near-desert world of Australian outback opal mining town Lightening Ridge. She does so with every inch of the vividness that eight year-old Kellyanne conjures up her imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan.

Robertson and the whole design team have great fun in the set-up of a story, which will eventually dare to broach the taboo subject of death. As a storyteller she has a wonderful physicality as she creates Kellyanne’s universe, bringing several characters into existence who can inhabit the same space, while she switches between them.

Primarily there’s Kellyanne’s opal-mad dad who goes off to dig in his opal mine, deep in his claim, every day; her mum who spends her days dreaming of the bucolic life she left behind in England, and her big brother Ashmol, who doesn’t just refuse to go along with his little sister’s imaginary friends, but is as hateful towards them as a teenager can be.


Then there are the friends, of course. The delightfully named Pobby and Dingan, one tall, one tiny with an opal for a naval, who walk in Kellyanne’s footsteps so they can’t be followed. And all the people of Lightening Ridge, some kind, some ferocious but each one introduced with just enough efficiency for them to be able to reappear later, when needed.

It’s directed with understanding and pace by Robert Alan Evans as the narrative begins to get more frantic when Pobby and Dingan go missing. Kellyanne takes sick and the focus turns to Ashmol, no longer a disbeliever, who instigates a town-wide search for the duo.

Gill Robertson in Lightning Ridge from Catherine Wheels. Pic: Brian Hartley

This is very much a team effort. Shona Reppe’s design, lit by Emma Jones, is a remarkably sparse, but hugely suggestive canvas on which Robertson can weave her magic. Tin buckets, a wooden ladder a cloth backdrop and an old boot filled with sand are all she needs to create a whole world.

Daniel Padden’s sound design adds a clever extra layer, not only of atmosphere, but notably when Ashmol ventures into his father’s mine alone and goes hunting along scary, echoing shafts, in what is possibly the most inventive use of a mike drop.

Robertson, Reppe, Padden and Evans are credited as co-creators of the piece, with Evans responsible, as he was in 2010, for adapting the script from Rice’s novella. It is certainly a thoroughly considered piece of storytelling. There again, it needs to be, as it carries a twist that grown-ups might see coming from quite a long way off, and be braced for, but for which young people will not necessarily pick up all the warning signs.

Lighting Ridge fits in the modern frame of Scottish theatre for young people, which sets out to make quality theatre that can speak to its audience on their level and never down to them. And which has the self-belief to bring big issues to the stage without fear.

There is care for its audience, of course, in a piece which is probably appropriate for nine years and up. But at its heart, this is a beautiful piece of storytelling, brought to the stage by a dream team of theatre practitioners who really know their craft.

Running time: 55 minutes (no interval)
Summerhall (Main Hall), 1 Summerhall, EH9 1PL (Venue 26)
Friday 4 – Sunday 20 August 2023
Daily (not 7, 14) at 11.30 am.
Tickets and details Book Here.

Catherine Wheels links:


Twitter: @CWheelsTheatre
Facebook: @catherinewheelstheatre
Instagram: @catherinewheelstheatre



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.