'Cloud Man' - Ailie Cohen | Edinburgh 2012
Cloudia is a geeky but engaging naturalist with a fondness for shortbread fingers. She takes up residence on Cloud Mountain in a narrow wooden hut that unfolds to reveal shelves of collecting jars. The precise, unhurried way in which she tells us the story of her lifelong search for the Cloud Man is perfectly suited to her attentive audience, mainly children from about 4 to 9 years old and their parents. She has the manner of the serious child obsessed with dinosaurs or dragons, wrapped in the professional certainty of a specialist.
The production is thoughtful, beautifully designed and structured. We wait, like our heroine, quite a long time before we see Cloud Man. Traces of his existence found in the clouds – a tiny white sock, a pointed woolly hat, a soft collecting bag - are held up between tweezers for us to identify.
A diminutive stethoscope reveals the surprising sounds of life within a giant cloud: splashing water, thunder, a heartbeat. All these clues awaken the imagination and engage us in Cloudia’s quest, so that when the fabled creature finally appears, we are ready for him.
Cloud Man is a simple form in white wool, a rod puppet just six inches tall with a round head and minimal features, tubby body and expressive gestures. When Cloudia goes out, he explores her hut. There’s a nice resemblance between the two characters, each with a collecting bag slung crosswise over their bodies.
Wordless, curious yet timid, he is like a wild animal - and Cloudia can’t resist trapping him in a large sweet jar. She tells him he’ll be safe and have as many shortbread biscuits as he needs. But he looks with desperate yearning towards his home. She has a choice to make. The ethical moment is not overstated but it resonates, giving the encounter a sharpness that tempers its fluffy charm.
This delicate, delightful show invites the audience to pay attention to things of the familiar world and find magic there: others may doubt but we know Cloud Man exists. Outside, afterwards, I spot a wonderful cloud sculpture – a greyhound with a long muzzle pointing towards Edinburgh Castle – and smile at the thought that Cloud Man has been out enjoying himself in the ever-changing Scottish skies.
Ailie Cohen Puppet Maker
Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh