Tigers have set the bar high for this year's festival. On Thursday, Arlo and I went to see a preview performance of Goblin Theatre's Mr Tiger Goes Wild at the Pleasance Courtyard. Peter Brown's original picture book is beautiful and I was curious to see how it would translate within the confines of a small fringe theatre performance space. Arlo was only really concerned to find out whether there would be a real tiger ('not just a dressing up one') on stage. His four year old understanding of the world - and of theatre - had clearly led him to recognise that an actual tiger would be unlikely but not, it seemed, an impossibility.
With or without a real tiger, we were both delighted. With just two performers and a very hard working set, the production managed to capture exactly the essence of the book and its resonance for young children. Its use of music and movement in place of Brown's expansive illustration communicated Mr Tiger's struggle to find a balance between between conformity and chaos, order and abandon, being freely himself and being with his friends. As both Arlo and I share a similar sort of temperament, I particularly appreciated the play's sympathetic attention to the parallel anxieties and frustrations of the somewhat less outlandish Mr Deer. Arlo seemed to get that too. 'Now he's going wild', he whispered to me by way of explanation when Mr Tiger started interrupting the rhythm of one of his and Mr Deer's shared songs, 'I can see that he is going wild'. 'Now he's going really wild', he added later when Mr Tiger first took his clothes off. 'I don't think they can hear the other one singing', he worried at the point in the play when the two friends find themselves apart and alone, 'They are sad because they cannot hear the other one'.
And as entertainment, it worked brilliantly. The many verbal, visual and physical jokes worked perfectly for their intended audience and every invitation to participate (with roars, or claps or wild tiger dance moves) was met enthusiastically. A few days ago Arlo and I had been talking about how some people try to review their experience of something by counting stars or thumbs-up or rotten tomatoes. Arlo had suggested he thought different types of faces would be a good idea and, as we stood to leave the theatre after the final applause, he was quite clear: 'ALL the happy faces, for Mr Tiger. Happy face, happy face, happy face, happy face and happy face. Is that five? All of them', he said, 'because that was really fun'.
And for our second tiger-related festival trip, yesterday Arlo and I went back to the Pleasance, this time to see You Look Tasty! (A Play by A. Tiger). Here the promise (or threat) of a 'real' tiger appeared to hold for Arlo throughout. He was properly scared. I'd like to think enjoyably scared (though that's a wee bit harder to tell). Certainly, the brilliant if somewhat macabre conceit of the play - that the two performers we see on stage and in the tech box have (just about) survived a vengeful tiger's murderous escape from London zoo and are being forced to perform said tiger's autobiographical (and lunch-providing) play at the Edinburgh fringe - seemed to unsettle Arlo a little, but not cause him too much (visible) distress. I can only assume he didn't fully understand the half of that because his deadly serious expression throughout suggested he also didn't entirely recognise that the whole premise was a very (I thought very, very) funny joke.
The show is advertised for brave families and children 5+. Arlo thought maybe older children ('7, 8, 9 or 10? something really older like that') might like it best. Bringing an only almost five year old, still more familiar with the peril-free universes created by Cbeebies than the black humour and background menace of say most Roald Dahl books was possibly a misstep on my part but I was thoroughly entertained. I loved the ambition of the play's ideas and its humour throughout. It is possible that on some levels at least the whole play, its clever (and somewhat dense) script and excellent performances were pitched more for me and other adults in the audience than for the younger children, but most of the kids we were there with seemed to get a great deal out of it too. As for Arlo, perhaps that is something to explore with a therapist at some point in the future. His immediate verdict though, 'scared face, scared face, scared face, happy face, scared face'. Whatever the case, he is very clear he no longer has any interest in going to see The Tiger Who Came to Tea so I think I will do that with just his younger sister Mo.