Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh
The Ultimate Pickle is our first show of Fringe ’22 (previews and showcases aside), and it’s a corker, albeit intended for an audience many decades our junior. Touring theatre company Paines Plough is dedicated to new writing and, as we’ve come to expect, this latest offering is a lively, imaginative and thought-provoking piece, played deftly and with precision.
This play, by Laura Lindow, is ostensibly for children, but there’s plenty here to keep us entertained. Princess Khumalo plays Dill Pickleton, an almost-eleven-year-old whose life is turned upside down when her granddad – or Gran-Ted – dies. Her mum (Sara Hazemi) goes to pieces and, before long, the duo are facing a financial crisis, necessitating a move from Gran-Ted’s beloved ‘lighthouse’ by the sea. For Dill, this also means a new school, and she struggles to keep a lid on her feelings. And then the wolf (Samuel Tracy) emerges from her story book, and Dill’s adventures really begin…
It’s a simple tale, and the metaphor isn’t exactly subtle, but that doesn’t matter because it’s beautifully told. Paines Plough’s “pop-up, plug-and-play” theatre, Roundabout, is well-equipped with state of the art LED lighting (Rory Beaton) and surround sound (Roly Batha), and so the tech does a lot of the heavy lifting: there’s no set and very few props, but we always know exactly where we are, and the atmosphere is vibrant.
The three actors play the parts with sincerity and commitment: these are endearing performances that don’t trivialise Dill’s feelings. It’s too easy for children’s shows to talk down to their audiences; this one, directed by Eva Sampson, respects them, and I think any similarly-troubled young person watching it would feel understood rather than patronised.
The Ultimate Pickle is funny and moving – and perfectly-pitched for the whole family to enjoy. This trio of actors are also performing in two other (not-for-children) plays, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of their work.
A lovely reminder of the joy of Fringe, and of how much we’ve missed it for the past few years. What a way to herald a new beginning! Bravo.