Beetle - Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Legs on the Wall declares its mission as: “To make meaning in a rapidly changing world through transformative physical theatre.” Playing at the impressive (and now award-winning) House of Oz the production of “Beetle” is a sensational blend of theatre, circus, animation, and storytelling, has a strong environmental message and underlines that everyone has a place in the world and even the smallest voice matters.
A large tree sits on the stage. A screen sits behind it. The trunk and branches are painted in a pale colour to reflect the many projections (video designer Susie Henderson). This is the tree around which, on which and from which the talented performers (Lloyd Alison-Young and Christy Tran) will climb, swing and fly. Tree represents the prototypical tree in the time before humans uprooted so much of the plant life on Earth. Tree has a voice (Vick Van Hoot) and they narrate the journey. Simon the beetle is one of the fast-disappearing Australian Christmas beetles. He is searching for his lost family. Sally, the child of the piece initially enters looking for a beetle to catch. A friendship ensues between Sally and Simon and a stunning true-blue Aussie narrative begins, complete with crickets, dog barks and other very recognisable suburban backyard sounds (Sound Designer Luke Smiles and Composer Jessica Dunne). The projections are illustrated by Freya Blackwood. This is a super useful element in a touring show like “Beetle” – easy to deliver and consistently high quality. The story of the tree and a history of time are etched into the tree and Simon and Sally go in search of Simon’s family.
On the way we meet third and fourth characters – Fergus the stick insect and a bush turkey become both allies and barriers to the quest (both played by Olivia Hadley). Sally’s urge to collect souvenirs on the way bring her into conflict with Simon and she learns to respect her environment – leaving only footprints and taking only memories. The allegorical framework and our connection to nature is obvious here. But a great one to have with the youngsters for whom the production is created. And the kids in the audience were captivated. Especially thrilling is a chase scene up and down the vertical tree trunk as the illusion created is that Sally is running, running, running as projections of falling trees crash around her. The melding of all elements, here, is outstanding.
The production ends with a charming petal drop. Some of the petals are tiny seed packets for the audience to collect and take home. The cast join the young audience and hunting for the seed packets and there is time for one-on-one chats. I am sure this will come to a town near you – don’t miss it. Great work by Legs on the Wall, "Beetle" is created and directed by Joshua Thomson and Kate Walder.