By D Cannon
A Wee Stories performance always brings high expectations of quality, but One Giant Leap at Summerhall meets and exceeds these in one impassioned summersault. Taking place in an old lecture room, this one man performance is inventive and exciting, and brims over with information and moments of laugh out loud comedy. Most of all, it leaves its audience stimulated to go out and engage their own spirit of scientific curiosity.
The story begins with a premise which will be all too familiar to the parents and pre-teens in the audience: a son confronting his dad with an unopened school science project due in the following day. What develops is what Wee Stories describe as part lecture and part theatre, as dad (Iain Johnstone, who also wrote the piece and directs it) becomes caught up in a personal voyage of discovery about the history of how we understand, and feel about, the universe, from earliest times to the present day. Its heroes, rediscovered and described by dad, are the individuals who took a giant intellectual leap to challenge the status quo of their day and propose new ideas about the stars.
At the heart of the story, though, is its championing of curiosity – what makes us human. The play encourages its young audience to explore and understand our universe – and to see our individual responsibility for the effects we have on our own world. It’s striking that the play is as interested in the forces which have attempted to stifle scientific curiosity as the people who have pursued it.
Iain Johnstone is wonderful as dad, unfolding the experience of his ‘light bulb moment’ with energy, excitement, intelligence and passion. He uses simple household objects and basic pieces of costume to illustrate the wonders of the universe with great inventiveness. The magic of the production is, however, a synthesis of creative and technical input. A blackboard behind dad is the base for really captivating visual effects which are integrated seamlessly into the performance, including brief interludes of film and music, and there’s a backdrop of beguiling music from David Trouton. Hats off also to the interpreter who kept perfect pace with Iain Johnstone at the BSL interpreted production we attended.
It’s a mix which is well designed to appeal to the 10+ age-group at which it’s aimed, and for whom it gets slightly more challenging to find engaging theatre at the Fringe. At an hour and ten minutes my ten year old found it just slightly too long, although this was the result of the rather cramped and uncomfortable seats rather than of boredom. And he does want to see the show again.
With its combination of inventiveness, discovery, comedy and multi-media effects, and the endlessly fascinating subject matter of our universe, this is a show which informs and entertains both parents and young people. It will continue to stimulate long after you leave the lecture room.