MUSSELBURGH-BASED children’s theatre company Catherine Wheels is widely celebrated throughout Scotland and internationally.

The people behind such outstanding shows as Cyrano, Hansel and Gretel, and White, they are leading ambassadors, not only for Scottish children’s theatre, but for the nation’s entire theatre sector.

Which is why it is very welcome that they are presenting a show, titled Lightning Ridge, at the Summerhall venue as part of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. A one-woman show, performed by the company’s artistic director Gill Robertson, the piece is adapted from the celebrated book Pobby and Dingan by English author Ben Rice.

Created for children aged eight and over, the production is the second show Catherine Wheels has created from Rice’s story. Some 13 years ago, they made a drama titled Pobby and Dingan.

Like that play, Lightning Ridge tells the emotive story of the 12-year-old boy Ashmol, who lives in the Australian outback with his parents and his little sister Kellyanne.

When Kellyanne becomes increasingly sick following the disappearance of her imaginary friends Pobby and Dingan, Ashmol embarks on a quest to find the missing figments of his sister’s imagination.

Robertson is proud of the show Catherine Wheels made back in 2010. However, she loves Rice’s book so much that she has decided that it’s time to make another stage version for a new generation of children.

“It’s the same story as Pobby and Dingan”, she tells me, when I catch up with her during rehearsals. “But now it’s a one-person show and there’s a lot more space for the audience to use their own imaginations.”

Which is highly appropriate, of course, given that Rice’s tale is predicated on a belief in imaginary friends.

“It’s not like you’re sitting listening to a story”, the actor continues. “You’re not being told everything.

“There’s lots to take in. People will come out with very different feelings and thoughts about it.”

The imaginative space the show offers to audiences is the consequence, Robertson says, of her close collaboration with a group of excellent theatre-makers. Robert Alan Evans is directing the show, and he also wrote the stage adaptation.

Acclaimed set designer and puppet theatre-maker Shona Reppe has designed the piece and Daniel Padden has composed the music. The result of their collective work is, says Robertson, “a rich, imaginative experience” which is “absolutely heartbreaking, as the first production was.”

The actor/director is fascinated by the emotional and psychological journey that Ashmol and his dad are taken on. “I think, if they hadn’t gone through it, they would be reduced as people”, she suggests.

“The experience of opening up to the more spiritual, existential, deeper parts of life has really made them grow.”

As with all great stories, Robertson hopes and believes that the characters’ experiences shine a light on more universal themes. “Creativity, imagination and questioning, imagining how things could be different, these things are so important in our world today”, she comments.

The actor has considerable experience in creating theatre. The trick to making a new production from scratch, she tells me, is to set that experience aside. “You’ve got to just go into a room and play and improvise and be daft”, she says.

This process has led, she says, to refreshing results. “I think some of the stuff we’ve got is not what you would expect.

“Because Rob [Evans] and I had worked on the story before, we were able to bounce off it and be much more crazy and mad than you normally would be.”

Although Robertson is feeling positive about Lightning Ridge, she’s less optimistic where the state of Scottish theatre is concerned. Like many of Scotland’s leading theatre practitioners, she has a sense of trepidation about the increasing levels of financial precariousness that Scotland’s theatre sector is facing.

Making work like Lightning Ridge seems, to her, to be pushing against a mood of burgeoning anxiety about the future of live drama in this country.

“I think we’re in scary times”, she comments. “We, in Catherine Wheels, have spent these past years doing loads of work promoting the participation of children in theatre and loads of community work.

“That work is of absolutely equal value to making plays to put on the stage. But what is really difficult now is actually getting the stage work made.”

Whilst funding bodies, most importantly Creative Scotland, support a variety of art organisations in numerous ways, she adds, “actually getting funding to make the work is almost impossible.

“That’s really hard. The bigger fight is getting more funding for the arts in general. We’re all instruments of politics and government now.”

These are sentiments that dovetail very much with the report into the state of Scottish theatre which was published at the end of last month.

Commissioned by the six biggest producing theatres in the country (namely, Dundee Rep, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, the Citizens and Tron theatres in Glasgow, and the Traverse and Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh), the report warns of the need for “fundamental, sustained action” by the big social players (not least politicians at Holyrood and in Scottish local government).

Intervention is needed, the report argues, to shield our theatre companies from some of the impacts of the Covid pandemic and the current economic turbulence (such as slowly recovering audience numbers and hugely inflated energy bills).

Without such assistance, there is a danger that other Scottish theatre companies will go the way of Perth Theatre, which recently announced that it won’t be replacing its out-going theatre director Lu Kemp.

These are sobering thoughts, of course. What the politicians have to grasp is that, just because many Scottish theatre-makers continue to make incredibly impressive work, that doesn’t mean they will be able to continue to do so regardless of the circumstances.

Which makes it all the more important that parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, guardians and carers take children to see quality theatre such as Lightning Ridge. Some of the deepest love affairs with theatre start with an outstanding children’s theatre production.

Lightning Ridge is at Summerhall until August 20: