The Tin Soldier, Festival Theatre Edinburgh

by guest critic Liam Rees

Birds of Paradise Theatre Company’s The Tin Soldier is a charming and inclusive alternative to the traditional pantomime. As a company specialising in making work with disabled people, it makes sense for the company to have chosen to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s story as it’s one of the few children’s stories to feature a disabled protagonist.

This production was further inspired by the director’s trip to Russia where he visited an “Internat”, where disabled children are isolated from the rest of society, and so as a coping mechanism they’d tell each other stories. This forms the theatrical structure of The Tin Soldier. This results in the cast having plenty of opportunities to talk about the story itself and its positive message of inclusion in an engaging and amusing way although it does sometimes detract clarity from the central storyline.

The cast prove themselves to be a multi-talented bunch, slipping in and out of various characters, playing instruments, and bringing puppets to life, adding wonderful jolts of energy to the performance. However it’s a shame that they don’t get the chance to utilise some of these elements to their full potential – some of the puppetry is shelved just as we start to engage with it. There are no such concerns about Audrey Tait’s percussive underscore, which adds a brilliant pace and atmosphere to the overall production.

The most effective and admirable aspect is the seamlessly integrated British Sign Language interpretation, which is made part of the scene and characterisation rather than simply relegated to the side of the stage. It’s a subtle but crucial decision that shows how simple changes can make performances accessible.

All in all, The Tin Soldier is a little gem that doesn’t sugar-coat reality or shy away from important issues like social exclusion whilst also paving the way for a brighter future.

The Tin Soldier runs through 23 December.

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