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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Little Otik

©Mark Fisher
Published in the Guardian
Four stars

The creepiness kicks in from the start. The house lights are still up when a young girl in a plain dress appears in the aisle distractedly bouncing a ball. Making a tremendously assured professional debut, Rebecca Smith is like an otherworldly spirit, enigmatic and all-knowing, as if possessing secrets denied the adult world. In Vanishing Point's adaptation of the Jan Svankmajer film, she becomes the focal point of a nightmare fairytale that is a cross between Eraserhead and Little Shop of Horrors.

The central story is about the girl's neighbour, the infertile Bozena Foster, who transfers her maternal longing to a tree stump dug up by her husband. What first looks like neurosis turns out to be chillingly prescient as the wood acquires a murderous life of its own. "Be careful what you wish for" is the moral of the modern-day fable, steeped in a fear of birth and childhood.

Matthew Lenton's production, a collaboration with the National Theatre of Scotland, is visually ravishing. Kai Fischer's set is a field of barren soil, waiting for the rain to usher in new life, while projections of sperm, foetuses and babies flicker across the back wall of the family's flat. There is no such thing as the innocence of childhood for as long as the neighbourhood paedophile is at large.

Extending Svankmajer's surrealism, Lenton's actors coax babies and cabbages from the ground and even find a real cat in a pram, while Christopher Shutt's score keeps the show on an uneasy line between laughter and fear. As distinctive in its way as Improbable's Shockheaded Peter, Little Otik is a macabre delight, even if its love of gothic horror denies the story a lasting emotional impact. At Eden Court, Inverness, tomorrow and Wednesday. Box office: 01463 234234. Then touring.

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