The looks of absolute delight on the young children’s face, their exuberance and unbridled enthusiasm demonstrated the tremendous strength and skill of this Foundation Phase interactive performance from Arad Goch.
Directed by Jeremy Turner, the show is deceptively complex despite its apparent simplicity which in itself is perfect for this exploring, largely confident, eager to enjoy and share age group.
Performer Tomos Wyn greets the children outside where he introduces them to the concept of the show through charming humour and empathy. Like the stones he picks up and shows them, some smooth, others rough, varying in size and colour, he tells the children, they too are all different and special.
Stone shave been dispersed around the playground and after a few minutes of showing how his own collection can be uses to make sounds, rhythms, shapes, interpreted as animals etc., he send them off to find their own and then the children file into the school hall to meet Ffion Wyn Bowen who leads an interactive performance that lasts for around 40 minutes.
Seated on cushions around a large mat on which some other stones have already been put into shapes and designs, our storyteller weaves an interactive performance combining harp music, singing, numeracy in English and in Welsh (this was an English language performance), gentle humour and mystery.
She is joined by Tomos and together they play a seemingly ad lib game of deciding what they can make with the stones, what each stone resembles, what happens when they are combined, what sounds different stones make when struck and how sand (tiny stones) and water can be used to make a “cake”. It is all, of course, carefully crafted to fire the children’s imaginations, encourage their own individual and collective working, their play and social skills. However, by introducing their own disappointments, frustrations, sadness, conflict resolution, selfishness and also kindness, the two players explore emotional issues with the children.
Ffion Wyn Bowen
There is one key element where Tomos is upset, turns his back on Ffion, and she asks the children to help her make him happier and involve him again. What was heart-warming was when the children started taking stones to him and telling him what animals they looked like, others took stones with words, some with faces drawn on, to cheer him up.
We do not know who these characters are nor what relationship they have to one another. Ffion’s costume is step same colour as stones but Tomos is in just comfortable clothing baggy enough to have stones in pockets and possibly rugged enough for outdoor stone collecting. Who knows? That is the point – another chance for the children to reason, to deduce, to imagine. Designer Misha Homayoun-Fekri has made the space, a circle enclosed by neutral-coloured cloths, a safe, inclusive area but not suggestive of any specific environment.
Accompanying the performance is a pack for teachers to build on what the children have seen and done in the almost an hour performance. If the response of the children in Llanelli is any indicator of what happened in the other 80 plus times Slip Stones has been given, this is a splendidly successful show.
This performance was with some very happy and enthusiastic children at Bryn School, Llanelli.
As both an arts critic and a primary school governor, I would book it.
This review is supported by the Wales Critic Fund.