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-“They’re only children!”

-“…But for how much longer?”

 

After a sell out run at the Edinburgh Fringe, HookHitch Theatre in St. Andrews to perform This was the World and I was King for three consecutive nights in the Barron, of which tonight (27th October) was the first. The show, based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem anthology A Child’s Garden of Verses, recounts the shaking influence of the First World War on a British family of five: three children – Evelyn, Lilly and Alexander – and their mother struggle with the absence of their father, who has been sent to fight in France.

I stepped into the Barron with high hopes and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. With a cast of 8, HookHitch condense the untethered human imagination; they strip it to its most enchanting form and deliver it to the audience through beautiful original folk music, the artistry of physical theatre and the unbearable pangs of nostalgia that coat the entire process of growing up. Filling the theatrical void for a tale of internalized mid-war chaos, as Atonement and Downton Abbey do on screen, HookHitch direct a poignant piece permeated with the distress of war.

The doors to the Barron were opened like clockwork at 19:30, but not before the sounds of acoustic guitar and singing drifted into the hallway. What I realised right away was that HookHitch seize their audience from the very start and never let them go. As we walked in, the Barron was hardly transformed, but with three actors already in character onstage (Lilly, the youngest daughter, playing attentively with her dolls, struck me as the most determined) it felt like we were intruding on an intricately familiar space. White paper doves were perched on strings above the stage, and a large trunk later used for scene changes (for example, as a log that the children jump over on their trip exploring the woods) stood in the centre. The minimalistic set offered the advantage of seamless scene changes to mimic the quick passage of time in youth, but also concentrated attention on what was really at stake in the story: the influence of war on the individual.

The plot follows the lives of the three children as they move into their Uncle’s house after their father leaves for the front mid-war, but every now and then, as the lights dim, we see an older Evelyn with her brother’s new wife clearing out the house and reminiscing about the magical driving force of hope that she and her sister once had. The actors were all so brilliantly intertwined in each other’s space and characters, but if I were to single out a specifically haunting performance it would be that of Laura Trundle (Evelyn). She swiftly transformed from her character’s giddy teen self to a sombre, sensible adult almost as if nothing had happened, hurling the audience towards a simple realization that time does just that – it passes mid-sentence without us taking any notice.

The absence of their father nurtured change for the three children, but also a fiercer need to escape the unbridled horrors of reality. Music, games, puppetry and dance were woven into the acting; the performance was a melancholy vision for the fountain of imagination and hope that comes with childhood. Letters from the front were read out loud as the two parents sat back-to-back on the trunk on stage, and the father’s lingering presence joined the siblings on their adventures into their own stories as well as those tales he sent them from France. The organic introduction of music into the mix didn’t ring fake but punctuated the action in all the right places, giving it the professional air of an edited TV series.

Collaboratively directed and written, This was the World and I was King is a charming symphony for childhood and its untimely end. As the audience clapped and screamed at the curtain’s close, I distinctly heard someone sobbing at the sheer sadness of the ending plot twist, and – I imagine – the lingering thought that time passes with the blink of an eye, seeing as for most of the audience it wasn’t so long ago that we too would resort to the uninhibited realm of a child’s imagination.

If you haven’t already (and if there are any left), I strongly suggest buying tickets for the next two shows this week.

Tuesday 28th: http://www.yourunion.net/ents/event/286/

Wednesday 29th: http://www.yourunion.net/ents/event/287/

 

 

Olia Kuranova

 

Photo credit/Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/581454881984290/