If you think the two-to-four-year-old market is as young as theatre gets, then think again. While Andy Manley has been rehearsing White for an audience of toddlers, he has been planning a second version of the show that will appeal to babies. You’ll have to wait until December to see that production – which, he says, will be more interactive and even less verbal – but, for now, anyone who has passed the grand old age of two will surely be delighted by a show that begins even before they get into the theatre.
“The audience come down one of the closes from the Royal Mile and we’re going to put little white bird houses and things of interest to the children along the way,” says Manley, who is working with Edinburgh’s Catherine Wheels company. “It’s quite daunting for two-to-four-year-olds to come into a black box, so it’s about making it friendly before they come in. At the end, we’ll lead the audience out into the garden, where they’ll see lots of coloured birdhouses up in the trees.”
The show is built on a beguilingly simple premise. We find two figures dressed in white and inhabiting a white landscape where even the birdhouses are various shades of beige, cream and grey. Their job is to collect birds’ eggs, which are – you guessed it – white. Unexpectedly, however, a red egg shows up. “It’s about how that colour starts to infiltrate our world and how we feel about it,” says Manley. “The colour is a bit like a virus and eventually starts to influence us as well. At the end, it will be a celebration of the fact that our world is slightly different.”
It’s the kind of idea that would be straightforward to achieve in a cartoon, but to introduce colour slowly into a three-dimensional set requires a special degree of control. Fortunately, Manley has drafted in the talented designer Shona Reppe – a great performer for children in her own right – whose set will transform itself as if by magic. “Shona’s model is amazing,” says Manley. “People look at it and ask if it’s the set, but, no, it’s just a model. Eventually, all the birdhouses will open to reveal the colours within, and the eggs will hatch into colour.”
The actor, whose recent performance in The Ballad of Pondlife McGurk for the same company was spotted by the Sydney Opera House and booked in for dates next year, says the best way to appeal to a young audience is to pursue the artistic ideas that interest him the most. “Being a child is very hard and I wouldn’t for a minute think I was here to put on some bit of rubbish entertainment just to get them through an hour,” he says. “For me, it’s about helping them to understand the world in which they live. Art is one of the few things that deals with our emotions and that’s really important.”
White, Traverse @ Scottish Book Trust, 5-29 August (not 9, 14-16, 23), 1.30pm, From £4, Tel: 0131 228 1404
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