Review: Granny Smith (French Institute in Scotland)
Updated: Jun 2
For anyone who studies theatre, or takes an academic interest at least, almost all performances are an opportunity to learn. Sometimes all you take away is how overdone something is, but even then, to an objective observer, that is valuable knowledge. There are very few shows that take their own educational qualities into account. One such show is Granny Smith, a bilingual (French & English) mask show for children. Performed by Tracey Boot, she opens by telling us the history of her company Theatre Transformations, the kind of masks we are about to see, and her arduous journey to Edinburgh. After introducing herself, she introduces us to her character Granny.
Granny is warm, active, and a little forgetful of her English sometimes. Fortunately we the audience are here to remind her. Dressed in florals, she pootles around her cosy home and tells us of her favourite sports, goes over the days of the week, and plays head shoulders knees and toes with the audience. The highlight of the performance is a chaotic crumble baking session at the end, with ingredients being spilt and audience members roped into peeling pears. Finally, there is a show-and-tell of some of Boot's other mask creations, delivered past the run time and out of character.
Boot is a natural performer. She reacts to unexpected contributions from young audience members with ease and inspires total confidence. Even witnessing a volunteer being told off for clapping flour off their hands proves funny and endearing rather than awkward, such is her charisma. Aspiring children’s performers and interactive thespians should take notes.
A natural though she is, her intended audience for Granny Smith is difficult to identify. Upon asking venue staff, it is open to anyone but recommended for children age 11-13. But then doesn’t a show pitched at the level of head shoulders knees and toes seem a little young for that age range? Ok, it is for younger children. The introduction and conclusion will most likely alienate them, and as Boot begins we are told that a young audience member and their parent have been strategically placed near the door in case they lose interest. With a range of potential audiences being so unclear, watching Granny Smith is a strange experience of not knowing whether you are part of the target audience, or if you are separate, and observing from the side-lines.
Curiously, I am told the show has so far been host to predominantly adult audiences. More people are coming to see Tracey Boot’s character creation for themselves than to take their offspring. This does not necessarily change the performance we watch, but it does confirm what is unusual about Granny Smith; it is as though we are being shown an example of what a bilingual mask children’s show would look like, not the thing itself. We are examining the signifier of one. It is placed on a pedestal and put behind glass.
From an educational perspective, you couldn’t find better. It is a gem of a find. Clearly it has an audience among fans of mask theatre and rightly so; Granny is truly built around Boot’s craftsmanship and her expertise. But not everyone who attends will be a chin-stroking academic, some just want to be entertained, and for their children to be entertained. For them it is difficult to say whether it will satisfy. The appeal may be too narrow for most mainstream audiences, but to see a performer in her prime, it might just be worth a shot. Three stars.
Whispers from the Crowd:
Parent: I'm a teacher and I thought it was very good for language learning
Child: and the ending was quite funny!