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Category: For Children (page 1 of 3)

Theatre Review: We’re Going On A Bearhunt at the Lyric Theatre

by Sarah Cope

Last month, my six-year old co-reviewer and I saw a charming stage adaptation of ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington. We commented then that this larger-scale, West End production would have to go a long way to beat that charming production, which held us spellbound for 40 memorable minutes.

Rather than puppets, this much-anticipated adaptation at the Lyric has adults taking the roles of father, daughter, son and, curiously, the dog. Rowena Lennon, who plays the daughter, deserves special mention. Lennon appears to specialise in playing children (she played Phyllis in the stage adaptation of The Railway Children, also reviewed here). It is something about her buck teeth, which she exploits to good effect, and her quite hapless expression, that somehow means she excels in portraying characters much younger than herself.

This is a high-energy show, which employs audience participation to keep the kids interested. The actors come out into the audience and put a lot of effort into involving the children, and the results pay off.

This approach is especially important when staging children’s theatre productions in large venues; it is all too easy for children to start focusing on the sweets their neighbour is eating rather than the action on the stage. As a reviewer, I’m always checking whether the kids remain engaged throughout, and here the majority were captivated.

Not only is this an interactive show, but it’s one where one becomes physically involved too. Squirted with water – or should I saw drenched? – I would advise people sitting in the stalls to bring a small towel along with them. I was surprised that the theatre allowed such extreme water-based shenanigans. Perhaps they reasoned that the upholstery would be protected by the audience’s bodies and clothing. They were right.

When the characters had to wade their way through mud, we were worried this might also be lobbed our way. A curious thing about the ‘mud’ was that it was very red in colour. “Is it ketchup?” I heard one child ask. My only conclusion is that, when the characters start smearing the mud around, perhaps it was thought that if it was too brown it would’ve looked too much like a dirty protest. Fair enough.

Although we were not covered in mud, our sensory journey was not over at this point, as we were later to be covered in very fine soap-suds, which, as any parent who has read this book to their offspring 20,000 times or so will know, is meant to be the “swirling, whirling snow storm”.

This totally sent the kids into raptures, though I wondered whether the kids who weren’t sitting in the stalls got the benefit of the bubbles too?

This is treat of a show, though if I had to pick one adaptation over the other, I would plump for the Little Angel’s smaller though slightly more charming production. The music, songs and singing were sweeter, more refined, and infinitely more memorable at the smaller show.

We’re Going On A Bear Hunt continues at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until September 8.

Children’s Theatre Review: We’re Going on A Bear Hunt, at the Little Angel Theatre

by Sarah Cope

I think I probably speak for a lot of parents when I say that my heart always sinks when my daughter proffers Michael Rosen’s well-known We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Sacrilege though it is to admit, I find the book dull, repetitive (I know, that’s the point), and the illustrations wishy-washy at best.

It’s a slip of a story, and I was genuinely intrigued as to how it could be adapted into anything near long enough for a decent stage production.

So it was in both the spirit of curiosity and altruism, since my daughter is such a fan, that I took my co-reviewer along to the always enchanting and intimate space that is the Little Angel in Islington.

I detest it when a reviewed writes a review along the lines of ‘I thought I would hate this, but actually I loved it’. However, thanks to Peter Glanville and Barb Jungr’s excellent adaptation, I’m going to have to do just that.

This was a totally captivating 40 minutes. The puppets, animated by four actors attired in blacks, greys and blues, were excellent, endearing portrayals of the characters, faithful 3D craftings of Helen Oxenbury’s original illustrations. The small boy, Bertie, in his pink babygrow, was almost unbearably cute.

The adaptation is set to music and the songs are both catchy and yet haunting; a tricky combination to muster. The actors all had excellent voices, and gamely took up instruments as diverse as the guitar and the flute. A special mention should go to Jess Mabel Jones, whose voice was staggeringly sweet, powerful and soaring.

As veterans of the book will know, the story presents several staging difficulties, what with squelchy mud, whirling blizzards and dark forests. The adaptation keeps it simple and charming, with, for example, a blue gauzy fabric doubling for the river, and the trees being a simple cut-out, complete with puppet owl (who, although appearing only twice, and briefly both times, seemed to captivate the children).

My six-year-old daughter, a massive fan of death and accidents, said “I liked it when Lizzie fell over, because the Dad said ‘Oh! What a bad cut!’” However, being a stickler for realism, she didn’t like it when tiny Bertie went swimming on his own; this she deemed “scary”.

There’s to be another adaptation of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt at the Lyric Theatre this summer, which will no doubt be a much fancier, up-scale production. We’ll be reviewing it here in July, but it’ll be hard for it to beat this smaller, almost perfect production, which I feel tempted to see again.

Grab a random child and take them; you’re in for a memorable treat.

We’re Going On A Bear Hunt continues at the Little Angel Theatre, Islington, until 21 July.

Children’s Theatre Review: Bringing Down the Moon at the Pleasance, Islington

by Sarah Cope

My daughter and I are always keen to review children’s shows at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington. An intimate space, meaning that kids are close to the action, means that those hard to please seat-shufflers are more likely to engage with the production. Indeed, we managed to get front row seats and such was the physically energetic nature of the show that we felt a little too close at some points!

Four actors take the parts of the mice, the guitar-playing hedgehog, the rapping squirrel (my personal favourite), the wise rabbit and the delusional mole, who falls in love with the moon and tries to bring it down from the sky to play with. As you do.

My almost-six-year-old was I think a little perturbed by the physicality of the play, and told me she didn’t like the mole character, though couldn’t specify why. I had a look around and she wasn’t the only child who was nestling into her parent for comfort, so it could be that the cast need to tone down the squealing and cart-wheeling just a notch.

Audience participation was encouraged from the start, although the children weren’t very forthcoming. They may have been overwhelmed by the high-octane antics, although the cast tried in earnest to engage them.

The show’s publicity boasts that the songs are very catchy, and this is indeed true. Why else could I be later found impersonating a squirrel, scampering up York Way, singing “It’s so beautiful and so brii-iight!”, much to my daughter’s embarrassment?

I did have more to say about this play but unfortunately the squirrel squirted the audience with a huge water gun and the ink of my notes ran somewhat. Take your waterproofs. And don’t sit too near the front!

Bringing Down the Moon, suitable for age 3 and over, is at the Pleasance Theatre, Islington until  January 2.

Children’s Theatre Review: Peppa Pig Live: Peppa Pig’s Treasure Hunt at the Hackney Empire (touring)

by Sarah Cope

Peppa Pig is a hugely popular Channel 5 cartoon, and the character is so marketable that she now
has a whole world dedicated to her in Hampshire. My four-year-old daughter entered a competition to win tickets to this pig-themed world though fortunately she didn’t win. However, instead we thought we’d catch the infamous pig’s stage show instead, which handily didn’t involve leaving London.

Although enchanting to children, it is hard to see what exactly is the appeal of Peppa Pig. The stories are largely uneventful, and Peppa Pig and her family have a uniquely annoying habit of chuckling,very regularly, for absolutely no reason. Watch an episode of the programme and you’ll see what I mean… or perhaps simply take my word for it.

The cartoon, however, transfers well on to the stage, with puppeteers in black clothing working small but adequately visible puppets of all the main characters. The plot revolves around a hunt for hidden treasure and includes a handy map-reading lesson along the way. Plenty of catchy songs and audience participation meant that most of the children present remained engaged, although the interval did disrupt concentration and I noticed it took some of the kids a while to re-focus when the second half commenced.

One very positive element of Peppa Pig is that, unlike many kids’ TV programme, it does go some way to challenge gender stereotypes. Step in the workaholic Miss Rabbit, who not only drives the bus, but also drives a train, flies a hot air balloon and sails a boat. When Peppa marvels at this character’s immense versatility, Miss Rabbit merely states, “I do have more than one job you know, Peppa!”
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Children’s Theatre Review: In The Night Garden Live at Brent Cross Showdome

by Sarah Cope

The BBC’s In The Night Garden has enjoyed huge success in recent years, taking over where Teletubbies left off as the programme of choice for pre-schoolers. With its gentle music and simple plots, and colourful and sometimes bizarre visuals, it was easy to see the appeal. It was also obvious that a live show would be a money-spinner, and with tickets priced starting at £14, rising to over £25 for premium seating, it has turned out to be just that.

The Brent Cross Showdome, as it turns out, is a huge inflatable venue, which was rather like being inside the intestines of the Michelin Man, if you’d care to imagine that. It was hard not to resent the extremely aggressive marketing of toys, sweets and fizzy drinks when ticket prices were already so steep (ushers bring trays of them into the auditorium so there’s no escape), and my advice to parents would be to take along healthy snacks and a toy or two to distract your rampant little consumer and hopefully save you some money!

When the show began, I was interested to see whether the two four-year-olds I had brought along would be entranced or whether they would be far too sophisticated for the show, the television version of which my daughter has recently started to call “too babyish for me.”

Things didn’t get off to a good start when the scenery – a big book structure – began to fall apart in the first minute and had to be hastily held together by stagehands. Again, with tickets costing so much I’d have hoped such hiccups could have been avoided.

There’s not much to keep parents occupied here, unlike with some kid’s shows which cleverly try – and sometimes even succeed – in appealing to everyone in the audience. There’s lots of visual stimuli, but the plot is thin – kind of like Mad Men, then, but with a lot less smoking.

However, the character Iggle Piggle’s uncanny resemblance to David Cameron led me to view the show as a clever political allegory.
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Theatre Review: The Wild Night of the Witches at the Little Angel Theatre

by Sarah Cope

The Little Angel Theatre Company, a tiny puppet theatre based in a former temperance hall, is currently celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. As part of that celebration, the company are re-staging The Last Night of the Witches, their first ever production, last performed in 1961.

The long-stringed marionettes are the ones originally used, although in the spirit of keeping the art form alive, they are operated here by trainee marionettists, who, after just two weeks of being taught what must be a tricky skill, appeared to my inexpert eye to be doing a great job.

The show has a lower age limit of five, although the vast majority of the audience were adults. Children were considerately given the two front rows, although the show itself didn’t give many concessions to the younger audience members. Long stretches of complicated dialogue, a distinct lack of pyrotechnics, no audience participation and no songs meant that there was a certain amount of fidgeting apparent.

My own daughter (who I should here admit isn’t five for another four months) kept whispering that she didn’t like it, and wanted to go home. (Later she said she had enjoyed it and wanted to go to “witch university”, such is the fickle nature of the child in question…).

The titular witches were quite alarming-looking; I particularly liked the way they flew sans broomsticks with their bottoms sticking up in the air. Generally though the pace of the show was slow, and though charming laughs were sparse.

Perhaps we shouldn’t expect all children’s shows to be action-packed adventures, and teaching younger audiences to enjoy a more subtle show is no bad thing. However, having your child whisper to you that she wants to go home for 40 minutes isn’t anyone’s idea of fun!

A charming children’s show for whimsical adults, then, or for children with considerably longer attention spans than my own offspring.

For details of forthcoming shows at The Little Angel Theatre, see here.

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