Georgia Winstone-Cooper reviews I Wish I Was a Mountain, a co-production between the egg and the Travelling Light Theatre Company, and presented for the tour in Wales by Theatr Iolo.
Who am I? Am I my body? Am I my mind? What about my voice? And why do we all exist? These kinds of questions are difficult for any adult to comprehend and I Wish I Was a Mountain poses them to young children, yet it expects no answer. Written and performed by Toby Thompson, I Wish I Was a Mountain is a poetic, musical, and beautifully delicate reimagining of Herman Hesse’s fairytale which encourages children to continue asking the most complicated, vague, and abstract questions they can fathom, but also to think beyond the question and come up with their own answers.
The production begins with some gentle audience interaction; Thompson encourages curiosity and inclusivity amongst those viewing his play. A true highlight of the production is its attitude to children; Thompson’s tone and the plot of the piece is simple enough for those as young as seven to understand, yet it is never condescending nor overly explanatory. I Wish I Was a Mountain treats children as the curious, thoughtful, and intelligent young beings they are. Whilst the language is at times perhaps too advanced for the youngest in the age category, the inquisitive nature which the piece encourages would result in any child simply wishing to find out more about the things they didn’t understand, rather than cause them any confusion or make them feel excluded.
The accessible nature of the production is a real highlight. The lighting is soft and gentle and the music is calm; Thompson finds no need for bright colours and loud noises to attract the attention of his young audience. Indeed, the colours of the set are muted and primarily a pale brown; the set, which has the atmosphere of Thompson’s own sitting room, is littered with wooden houses of various sizes, record players, and a piano. There is enough to draw the eye to wander and wander, yet not so much that it distracts from the plot itself. The inclusion of deaf poet Donna Williams’s live interpretation adds a further layer of magic and curiosity. Williams is not simply relegated to the side of the stage to provide translation, but is included in the very movement and rhythm of the piece; she plays with the set, touches the speakers to feel the music being played, and dresses up alongside Thompson and is an integral part of the delightful whimsy of the play. Williams’ presence is a necessity to make the production accessible, yet the way in which she is included adds further beauty and joy to a truly wonderful piece.
The primary focus is a retelling of Hesse’s fairytale, yet the style in which Thompson introduces and explores the narrative, providing his own thoughts and questions, encourages the young audience to analyse the story and question it further themselves, rather than simply enjoy the story. The entire production is still, however, immensely enjoyable, magical, and filled with wonder; it does not have the intention of relaying some barely hidden message to the children in the audience, rather it presents them with a story and an idea, questions it and then encourages the children’s own curiosity.
For more information about the, I Wish I Was A Mountain production by the egg and the Travelling Light Theatre Company live at the Theatr Iolo website here.
Georgia Winstone-Cooper is a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.