Published in the Guardian
For those of us who grew up watching Multi-Coloured Swap Shop, the idea of trading your old toys for someone else's carries a special allure. After selected performances of this National Theatre of Scotland production, the young audience gets to relive the fun. At the Beacon, I watch a girl exchange one of her drawings for a Paddington Bear book and another lead a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in return for a bingo game.
It reminds you that perceived value and monetary worth are not the same thing (Maria Miller take note), an idea Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean take to an extreme in their picture book The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. Young Neil thinks it's a bargain to get a goldfish bowl in return for a father who rarely comes out from behind a newspaper. Sadly, his mother has different values and insists he gets his father back.
This is where Lu Kemp's delightful production comes into its own. With actors Laurie Brown and Veronica Leer leading the way, the audience ventures through corridors and cubbyholes in an effort to track down the missing parent. Turns out Neil's friends think his dad is worth an electric guitar, a gorilla mask and a large rabbit and have bartered him accordingly.
It's a deliciously daft concept, a quality Oliver Emanuel's script and Laura Hopkins's designs make the most of, but in execution, it is also gripping. However much we are entertained by the self-absorbed characters realised by Anthony Strachan and Rosalind Sydney, we can't forget they are delaying us in our increasingly nightmarish quest.
Along the way, Neil learns humility and Little Sis discovers reserves of warmth, but the pleasure of the show is less as a morality tale than as a vivid journey into the imagination.
At Howden Park Centre, Livingston, 2–5 May, 01506 777666, and touring until 1 June. Details: www.nationaltheatrescotland.com