By Anne-Louise Fortune
Chrissie & The Skiddle Witch is something a little bit different at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Firstly, it’s performed by two Earth Science PhD students, and secondly, it’s a family-friendly musical about climate change.
We don’t quite know where Roberta Wilkinson (book, lyrics), and Matthew Kemp (music, lyrics), have managed to find the time and energy, in the midst of PhD research, to both write and perform in this charming piece of theatre relating the tale of 13-year-old Chrissie, and her attempts to make the residents of the town she lives in – Skiddle – care about the forthcoming climate emergency, but we commend them for their achievements. Both performers multi-role within the performance, and whilst, to be blunt, the various character’s accents are sometimes a little bewildering, there’s just so much heart here that the enthusiasm carries the day.
The songs are simple but surprisingly catchy, ideal for the intended 8+ age group of kids whose attention the duo are aiming to attract with this show. There’s even a fair amount of humour on display, especially in the song sung from the perspective of the ocean.
The plot concerns Chrissie’s attempts to persuade Skiddle’s residents to sign a petition asking for the local Big Oil and Gas Company to invest its profits into renewable energy projects rather than continuing to exploit the waters off Skiddle’s coast for more fossil fuels. The importance of renewables to the future energy mix is front and centre throughout this show. Whilst the audience at Edinburgh Fringe is international and includes a lot of residents of England, it’s worth noting that Scotland actually is already potentially self-sufficient in renewable electricity, which gives the show an interesting and possibly unintended intersection in the context of local politics.
Whilst taking her petition to the town notice board, Chrissie is ordered by her headmaster to undertake volunteer work for her Citizenship Studies. Already on thin ice at school due to her participation in the local version of Greta Thunberg’s School Strikes, Chrissie feels she has no option but to agree. Reluctantly assigned to ‘Annie’, a local senior citizen, Chrissie makes her way to Annie’s house in the woods.
Annie is, of course, the ‘Witch’ of the title, and the show doesn’t shy away from questioning that trope, preferring instead to point out the problem that old women who live quietly on their own are often shunned and feared by a society who cannot conceive of anyone wanting to live their life differently.
As the story continues, we learn more about the problems facing the planet as companies continue to take actions which, if not stopped, will lead to the elimination of the human race. This might all sound a bit preachy, but the story has been very carefully crafted to avoid this. There’s also a strong beta plot about Chrissie and her family, which contains a twist that the adults in the audience probably did not find all that surprising but which was well delivered.
The duo of Wilkinson and Kemp have a very strong sense of how to tell a story effectively, and there are a lot of interesting facts about wider science in the show, alongside the climate change information. There’s also light and shade within the piece, and it’s no surprise to discover from their website that this is not the duo’s first theatre show.
With a potentially very strong future within the Theatre in the education field, as well as at the ever-growing number of science and children’s festivals, this is a delightful production that we strongly recommend.
Chrissie & The Skiddle Witch continues at the Edinburgh Fringe until August 19th.