Reviewed by Flossie Waite
A Teater Pero production
Reviewed at Southbank Centre as part of Imagine Children’s Festival
For ages 3-6
Joyful is the only word to describe Aston’s Stones. Teater Pero’s play about appreciating the small things in life finds joy everywhere: in walking down a familiar path, in unpacking the shopping, in the recurring promises to do DIY. Aston’s love of little things takes on a nurturing quality – when he spots a stone on the ground, he’s instantly besotted, taking it home to care for it. But it’s not enough to sing lullabys and make blankets for just one stone, when there are so many out there to protect. There’s the stone that’s sad, the stone that has a cold that just won’t give up, rough stones, smooth stones, old stones, stones with beards. Each one is prized (“Wow, look at this! It’s lovely!”) and each one is given its own spot in the family home, until the house is completely full of Aston’s stones and his parents’ patience begins to wear thin.
Aston’s Stones is an adaptation of the Swedish picturebook by Lotta Geffenblad (the translation to English creates some pleasing wordplay – Aston sounds a lot like ‘a stone’). Ulf Eriksson’s music elevates the canine family’s daily experiences, helping us to see there’s something special about their repeated conversations and rituals. The score communicates more effectively than the script could on its own: the mother and father’s musical greeting to each other gives us an insight into their comfortable, affectionate relationship; that it’s the same each day shows us their stability. Aston and his mother’s walk home from the shops is heightened by Eriksson’s rolling piano accompaniment: not only does it say something about the time of day and the weather, but it is emotive: what otherwise may just be a mum and her son carrying heavy shopping bags is now understood to be a building block of something much bigger, the routines and habits that make a family life, the easy relationship denoted by walking in step, in a comfortable silence. Like that feeling of safety when you were little in the back seat of your parents’ car as they drove at night, these are the moments that you only recognize and treasure later on, but Eriksson’s music privileges us with seeing how meaningful the seemingly ordinary experiences are as they happen.
It’s not just emotional impact that makes the little things important, but their humour. Eriksson’s songs help to tell jokes: it’s clear that father’s promises of DIY are both nothing new and yet to be seen, despite mother kindly entertaining his assurances as though she is hearing them for the first time; the parents’ jovial duet is a whimsical leitmotif. Some of the funniest scenes involve sound effects and mime, like the daily unpacking and sorting of imagined shopping items – the noise of an airborne box of eggs as mum throws them to dad, the thud as he catches them, the creak of the fridge door opening and the bang as it is shut. The play’s central idea means it could all get a bit too saccharine, but the comedy acts as an effective block against sentimentality, as does Magnus Lundblad’s performance as Aston. He plays a wide-eyed puppy who is awed by the tiniest pebble, clutching them to his cheek and carefully tucking them into bed, but somehow it isn’t too much – there’s no dumbing down of language, no attempt to mimic a child’s voice or mannerisms.
At just 30 minutes long, Aston’s Stones is a short piece but for an audience with a renewed appreciation for little things, Teater Pero’s play is small but perfectly-formed. In fact, Aston’s Stones is as close to perfect as theatre gets.
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