WhirlyGig reviews

The Skinny ****

In association with Catherine Wheels and Red Bridge Arts, Daniel Padden’s WhirlyGig lays bare the components of sound, how ridiculous it can be to play with, and the fun in how a single note can curve an entire composition. By tearing up the rulebook when it comes to orchestral arrangements, WhirlyGig succeeds in creating a wholly new sound through the slashing of score sheets, hops and jumps, taps and whistles.

WhirlyGig isn’t just a selection of noises, though: it’s an anatomy of music. Energy ripples throughout Padden’s composition, with its stiller moments allowing us to draw breath. Musicians Claire Willoughby, Rory Clark, Rory Haye and Sita Pieraccini play with a hoard of instruments, bottles, vocals and their bodies. Notable pieces include the four musicians synchronising in an impressive looped beat. The quartet play off one another – not only instrumentally, but in personality and comedic turns, showcasing how no two musicians have the same style, control, and, in some flawed circumstances, timing. Alison Brown’s vibrant costume design and Sergey Jakovsky’s subtle yet carnivalesque lighting add depth and charm to this production.

As a whole, musical arrangements have no restrictions as to the age they inspire: pieces can strike anyone, at any age, at any time. WhirlyGig’s topsy-turvy vibrancy and playfulness with melody has the potential to capture young creative minds, and to rejuvenate a passion for a pure form of cobbled together music for anyone.

Edinburgh Guide ****

Daniel Padden’s charming premiere show, Whirlygig, celebrates the joy in making music, and these are just a few of the noise making variations a talented quartet take us through as they experiment with sound and movement in an aural and visual treat for families. A chalk marked floor outlines instruments – familiar and foreign – which the four vaudeville-esque players interact with, inviting wonder, play and intrigue from the younger audience members, with arrangements ranging from gentle rhythms to rambunctious cacophonies.

Under the command of a Cuckoo signalling the troupe to sit with instruments in hand and perform sheet music, they spring into play when released, to check what’s possible with the tools they find, with the action becoming more chaotic and challenging as the possibilities grow.  The simplicity of the message is reflected in the loose structure, as unrelated segments manage to perfectly hang together and retain attention. Each instrument is a puzzle to solve, a sound to discover and a piece to fit a bigger picture, highlighting no matter how big or small, everyone can contribute.  With four performers – Rory Clark, Rory Haye, Sita Pieraccini, Claire Willoughby – who are extremely talented musicians and at ease with each other and the audience, interaction comes easy, making this madcap music feast a sure fire pleaser for fidgeters that will have all clapping and tapping along, and listening for music in many places beyond the theatre.

The List ****

Curious whispers echo around the auditorium before the performers even arrive on stage. What, we all wonder, are those chalk outlines on the floor – and which items belong there?

We know the outlines are destined for a musical hook-up because of the more obvious ones: the shapes of a trumpet, guitar and drum stick are all easily identifiable. The rest are anyone’s guess.

Happily, multi-talented musicians Sita Pieraccini, Rory Clark, Rory Haye and Claire Willoughby arrive in colourful costumes to fill us (and the gaps) in. Armed with more instruments than most of the young audience even knew existed, they hop around the stage humming notes as they deposit them on the floor. You can almost hear our collective brains going ‘ahh!’, as bells, a concertina, xylophone, kazoo, ukulele, melodica, sousaphone (a kind of enormous tuba) and more are all laid out.

Suitably kitted-up, the foursome tries to play a tune – but is continually hampered by issues with sheet music, and a devilish desire to mix things up a little with new instruments (bottles of water or their own voices, for example).

Created and composed by Daniel Padden, WhirlyGig has a joy of music that’s infectious, winding its way through the audience and increasing with each new instrument and sound. Without saying a word (apart from singing a few random notes), the performers give us plenty to laugh and smile about.

Constantly changing and not shy of silliness, yet utterly respectful of the musicians’ skill, this is a show that makes playing an instrument look like the best fun you can have.

Reviewsphere ****

A small object – spotlit, red and egg-like – lies at the foot of an empty music stand. Around which spread a white-taped constellation of geometric shapes, musical instruments and indiscernible squiggles. One of which, a large circle, stirs the curiosity of Rory Haye (one of four clownish musicians along with Sita Pieraccini, Claire Willoughby and Rory Clark) who repeatedly points and enquires, “What is it?”

Ask and you shall receive, goes the saying. And like the fin of Jaws breaking the blue, the gleaming torso of a ginormous sousaphone rises above an elegant theatrical drape, drawing gasps and giggles from the target audience of 6 years and over who are perched, wide-eyed with wonder, on the edge of the three-tiered seating banks of carpet, stool and chair.

So begins composer-musician Daniel Padden’s charming debut show WhirlyGig, co-directed by Gill Robertson in a co-production with Catherine Wheels and Red Bridge Arts, which through the twin ingredients of stretch and play celebrates the joyful challenge of creativity and ensemble. And by extension, friendship.

There is a scored composition, The Whirly Theme, repeatedly summoned by an increasingly erratic cuckoo clock, which the quirky quartet return to – to at first rapturous and ultimately reluctant recorded applause. But it is the “non-performances” which form the bulk of the action. Each sequence removing or toying with one of the building blocks of musicianship.

Moth-eaten sheet music leads to a riff on ripping. Rivalries ignite an improvisational rammy. A fly in the throat prompts an unexpected change of pitch and pace. And in a much-welcome shift in tone from the upbeat and downright silly – the visual standout being an extravagant hat of pink lilies which would give Carmen Miranda a run for her moolah – a lap of waves over a distant bell and the drone of an accordion evokes dusk and slumber, melancholy and goodbyes.

The structure of the fifty-minute show may be repetitive and the crescendos more muted than dramatic. But the level and nature of the musical challenges – performed with poise and playfulness by the quirky quartet – provoke beaming smiles and ripples of laughter throughout, leaving the audience spellbound at what Padden calls in his programme notes the “magical and mysterious gift” of music.

The Scotsman ****

A madcap musical adventure for everyone aged over six, says the publicity for this new show from children’s theatre makers Catherine Wheels and Red Bridge Arts. It’s a phrase that rings true, for a show by composer-creator Daniel Padden, with co-director Gill Robertson, that often seems to owe as much to grown-up traditions of physical comedy – think Jacques Tati with a touch of Charlie Chaplin – as to the familiar business of theatrical storytelling for children. The show begins with the outlines of a dozen musical instruments, scrawled on the stage in front of a glamorous little cabaret curtain; then the four players appear with the instruments themselves, carefully placing them in the right spaces. At the sound of an alarm bell, they form a four-piece band – melodica, sousaphone, ukulele and saxophone – and produce a suitably early 20th-century oompah sound; but their performance is brief, and every time it recurs, over 50 minutes, it seems more fragmented. Meanwhile they experiment with a dozen other ways of creating musical noise, from generating symphonies with half-full bottles and torn sheets of paper to forming themselves into a four-headed one-man band. The end result is a beautifully presented and gloriously lit collage of slightly retro musical fun that represents an impressive feat of perfect musical and comic timing by performers Rory Clark, Rory Haye, Sita Pieraccini and Clare Willoughby.