[author-post-rating] (4/5 stars) Superhero Snail Boy

Inari is a superhero in training and if only he could get some of his powers to work, he’d be absolutely sorted. Miserable and friendless at secondary school, he frequently retreats into fantasy and even has to see the school counsellor, all of which seems pretty disastrous to Inari. Luckily, Mrs Dale just might have some good ideas to help him cope with everything. In Superhero Snail Boy, Elizabeth Muncey’s writing shows a great sensitivity and understanding about the reality of being a child troubled by adult problems; the result is a charming hour of theatre for audiences of any age.

There’s real care given to every element of this production, with beautiful set design from Georgia Twigg, who has created a world that is at once both lifelike and slightly removed. There’s a mixture of real-looking gardens filled with flowers and bedrooms that look like illustrations from children’s books, populated with black and white, line-drawn cardboard flats. To go to sleep, for instance, Inari climbs between the two flats painted to look like the top and bottom of his bed, making it look like he is inside a drawing. It makes for some lovely images, equally innocent-looking and a little sadly flat and grey.

Henry Regan is sweetly understated as Inari, while Muncey performs in addition to having written the script, multi-roleing as three different characters. The youngest of these, Tillie, is another lonely child at Inari’s school. Muncey gives a beautifully sensitive performance, with some heartbreaking interplay between Tillie and her father, played by Kevin Varty.

As the story unfurls, you realise that both children are learning to cope with grief, and Superhero Snail Boy slowly becomes more than just a sweetly enjoyable piece of theatre – it becomes moving, hopeful and, in parts, terribly sad. But of course it is largely a grown-up kind of sadness; this show is certainly not too complex or dark for children, though it isn’t here to patronise them either.

Inari and Tillie both have trouble sleeping and are kept company after dark by a giant snail, who carries the heavy nights on his back. These scenes, though a charming idea well-executed, can sometimes feel as if they have come from a different show. Also, there are one or two moments and ideas that make you feel as though Muncey has wavered over the decision of making this a play for children or a play that is simply about children, for adults. Still, these are occasional wobbles in what is generally an impressive hour from a highly inventive young company, with real potential.

Superhero Snail Boy can be seen at 10.30 at Bedlam Theatre until 24th August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.