'Feral' – Tortoise in a Nutshell | Edinburgh 2013
Tortoise in a Nutshell’s small stage is filled with grey technical equipment: what looks like a set of drawing boards with a cluster of anglepoise lamps above, and a projection screen above that; and separate stations for video and sound control. But ‘Feral’ begins with the most primal art of sketching. Joe (“Me”), Dawn and Mum are conjured up, followed by their world – a small town, lovingly created, three-dimensionally now, in paper pieces that slot into the desktops and appear, by live-feed video, on the screen above.
The method of creating the story and simultaneously showing us it by live-feed video is reminiscent of both the Paper Cinema and, in the sense of a tight team of performers synchronised in the act, Bootworks’ ‘Incredible Book-Eating Boy’. The pleasures are multiple – the sheer detail of the created world, a seaside town complete with houses, shops and a visiting fairground, and the perspectives possible by looking through windows and down side streets.
The process of creation is further highlighted in several ways – close-ups made on a separate table to the side; sound including witty foley techniques added while mixing live on another technical desk; live video editing on stage as we watch. The performers can cut to a character in a different place, or to their perspective, or to a juxtaposed image. We understand that the piece is commenting on – by showing – the process of story-making by media.
Technically, then, the show is a marvel and a pleasure to watch. But for all the sophistication of the form, the narrative is disappointingly simplistic – a slightly creepily idyllic seaside town builds a 'Supercade' entertainment centre and then rapidly and seemingly inexorably descends into dereliction, unrest and death. And that’s about it.
There’s one additional thread to the story that has the potential to be more revealing – the protagonist’s visualisation of himself and his sister as superheroes, in battle with their restrictive mother. We’re meant to find this important – when it explores this aspect, the show bursts from monochrome to colour. But it doesn’t really go anywhere, and doesn’t impact significantly on the main narrative. Nevertheless this is an impressive piece of work, elevating Tortoise in a Nutshell from ‘ones to watch’ to important puppetry artists.
Tortoise in a Nutshell in co-production with Cumbernauld Theatre