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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Pobby and Dingan, theatre review

Published in Northings

Pobby and Dingan
Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, 27 February 2010, and touring)


IT TAKES a while to warm to this adaptation of Ben Rice's novel. For one thing, there doesn't seem to be much at stake: just an everyday family hoping to get lucky in Lighting Ridge, an opal mining town in the Australian outback. For another, the production by Catherine Wheels takes a straight-forward approach that rules out the kind of imaginative leaps that children's theatre does best. The initial impression of Gill Robertson's staging is of a routine domestic drama.

All the same, you sense something is going on. Apart from the father (Damien Warren-Smith) with his Elvis fixation and conviction that untold wealth is just a day away, and apart from the mother (Ros Sydney) trying to keep order in a household with little money and a broken washing machine, and apart from Ashmol (Scott Turnbull), their son, zipping round town on his bike, there is the question of daughter Kellyanne (Ashley Smith).

Although the least vocal of the four, she is the most intriguing, because everywhere she goes she is accompanied by her two imaginary friends, Pobby and Dingan.

On the stage, Kellyanne's belief in the reality of these two characters is no less preposterous than our belief in the invisible food the mother puts on the table or the motionless journey Ashmol takes on his bike. One of the most touching aspects of Rice's tale, adapted by Rob Evans, is the willingness of the whole town to indulge in the little girl's fantasy. It is as if they recognise that her imagination offers an escape from the hard-bitten reality of their mining town that is so persuasively evoked by the play's incidental details.

But Pobby and Dingan goes further than that. Contrary to expectations, there is an awful lot at stake. This is a play about nothing less than childhood illness and death. It is about the way we can use the imagination not only to make sense of the world, as all children do, but also to come to terms with life's greatest traumas.

We take the play at face value when it treats the mysterious disappearance of Pobby and Dingan as a surreal and whimsical comedy, but all the while it is preparing us for us for the weightier events ahead.

Along the way it demonstrates the importance of community, ritual and shared belief as the townsfolk put aside their petty antagonisms and stand together in recognition of what is truly important. From its innocuous beginnings, Pobby and Dingan matures into a profoundly moving play, low on sentiment and high on good humour, that will leave you sobbing for the loss of more than just your invisible friends.

Pobby and Dingan is at The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, on 20 March, and Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on 22-23 March 2010.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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