My three boys 7, 9 and 10 have been lucky enough to have been attending the Edinburgh festivals since they were born. I’ve even got a photo of my youngest at 2 weeks old meeting David Hasselhoff! Seasoned festival pundits, as soon as August comes around they are asking what they are going to see. I now give them the Book and Fringe Festival brochures and ask them to circle everything they are interested in. After alot of editing they have an enviable timetable and mix of theatre, dance, circus and authors.
I’ll Take You To Mrs Cole is based on the children’s book of the same name. Whenever Ashley creates havoc at home, after exploring imaginary worlds and leaving the kitchen in a mess, her mother threatens her with Mrs Cole. Mrs Cole is known in the neighbourhood as a scary woman who keeps a dirty house.
It’s set in 1981 and for the over forty’s, the interludes of black and white footage of riots and Margaret Thatcher will take you right back there. For older children the subject of politics, history and the racial divide of the time may spark interest and questions. For younger children, the continuous threat of Mrs Cole when Ashley does not tidy up, do her chores or is naughty will ring true.
Clever use of animation keeps the myth surrounding Mrs Cole alive throughout the production. Nostalgia set in for me as I saw the old Cornflakes box, the three clip elastic nurses belt Ashely’s mum wears, the Woolworth’s bag Ashley comes in with after buying a vinyl single and the reference to the abolition of free milk at break time. For the boys the use of props fed their imagination. The vacuum cleaner hose turning into a lightsaber, the body of it becoming R2-D2 and Ashley using some foil to improvise as C-3PO. Recreating imaginary worlds the productions reminds everyone of how simple everyday items can allow children to escape into their imaginations.
The reality of Mrs Cole is a far cry from the assumption which Ashley realises after attempting to run away and being take in my her. The element of fear of the unknown is touched on here and how appearances can be deceptive.
What really captured my boys though, was the music. Ska music originated in Jamaica in the 1950’s and was a precursor to rocksteady and reggae.The show boasts an original soundtrack and you can’t help moving in your seats as the music envelopes you throughout the show. My 7 year old has tendency to move and dance to any music he enjoys and he was lost in the music with his nodding head and hands tapping on his knees.
As the show ran I wasn’t sure whether my boys would understood the cultural references and my 7 year old got restless towards the end. However they all engaged thoroughly with the story and the music and gave it 4 out of 5 when I asked them at the end. I’m now having to download various ska tracks for them to listen to and for my 9 year old (a drummer) to practice. I’m delighted to be embarrassing them further with some dancing in the kitchen.