My London Your London

A cultural guide

Category: For Children (page 2 of 3)

Theatre Review: Little Bear by the Ception Theatre, part of the Camden Fringe

by Natalie Bennett

The press release (PDF) for Little Bear indicates that it is a show for “all ages”, and explains the genesis of Ray Sullivan’s script in workshops for “troubled adolescents”. Yet there’s little indication of this in the Camden Fringe programme, so viewers might be a little surprised at what they get.

Certainly, it’s a well-acted, well-rehearsed, energetic hour-long production, in a glorious setting of old trees, swooping birds and late summer blossom.

And the tale of a troubled life in the forest – where a hunter, thwarted in love and game by Genevieve, his former soul mate, has ensured that the sun won’t rise and the stars have been switched out, with only the moon still resisting his force – a world into which a lost little girl enters, discovered by a distinctly Shakespearean sprite – is certainly on classical ground.

Yet I have to say that it really does feel more like a play for children than adults – a morality tale about the power of hope, relying on your friends and working together, and the positive effects of compassion. All good decent stuff, but for adults you’d expect some more real darkness, and more twists and turns in the plot.

I also felt rather more might have been made of the setting – a line held in store for a swooping bird, or a fluttering early moth, ready to slot in at the right moment to take full advantage of this glorious historic setting.

Still, the cast does a fine job, particularly Genevieve and Ulu (the little girl), the garden in glorious. It is well worth an hour of your time for the last production tonight – particularly if you have a child or young teen to bring along to enjoy it with.

The production has its final Camden performance tonight, in St Martin’s Garden at 7pm. Free.

Camden Fringe continues until August 28.

Theatre Review: The Tiger Who Came to Tea at the Vaudeville Theatre

By Sarah Cope

Based on the classic 1968 children’s book by Judith Kerr, the stage version of The Tiger Who Came to Tea now playing in London faithfully recreates the original illustrations while adding singing and dancing to the plot.

Having read the book to my daughter countless times, I immediately noticed all the details present and correct in the staging, right down to the string of garlic bulbs hanging from the kitchen shelves.

The actors playing Sophie and her Mummy and Daddy are not only suitably attired, but they even physically resemble the characters in the book. Sophie is played by an adult, albeit a petite one (Abbey Norman), whilst the hardest-working actor on stage had to be Alan Atkins, who plays Daddy, the postman (here he channels Kenneth Williams, curiously), the milkman, and the tiger. I wasn’t surprised he was sweating buckets and had to surreptitiously wipe himself with a handkerchief at points!

Right from the start the children are included in the action, when the actors come into the audience and say hello. Then, taking to the stage, they break into song, thanking us for “coming to our play”.

The slapstick physical comedy went down a treat with the children, with delightful moments such as when the father catches the popping-up toast in his work bag before heading out of the door.

There’s a sense of anticipation, and it’s clear what everyone is waiting for: the tiger. When he arrives, he doesn’t disappoint, being huge, slightly camp and only a trifle fierce-looking. I wondered whether the children might be afraid of this imposing orange creature, but they were clearly familiar with the story and knew that the tiger was only interested in eating the family out of house and home.

Then commenced the infamous binge, complete with amusing sound-effects (the loud belch following the beer-guzzling proved highly popular!).
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Children’s Theatre Review: Snow Play at The Pleasance (Edinburgh preview)

by Sarah Cope

“It won’t be cold for long, Mr White. There’s something under the snow.”

With Edinburgh festival “previews” now running all over the city, Londoners are even more spoilt for choice than usual when it comes to the capital’s cultural smorgasbord. This is also the case for “mini-Londoners”, and this week my four-year-old and I went along to see the Lyngo Theatre Company’s Snow Play. The company had a hit with this play at the Lyric Hammersmith over Christmas, but how would a wintry play work for a summer audience?

When it became apparent that there were only going to be about seven of us in the audience I became worried about the word “interactive”. As it turned out, I needn’t have fretted, because the play was charming and engaging, and the interaction was probably made easier by the intimacy of the audience. Indeed, my daughter, not usually one for overcoming her shyness in front of groups of strangers, got so involved that without prompting she went up to the front and helped coat Mr White in “snow”.

I had had visions of the play utilising real snow, and the auditorium being chilled to an uncomfortable degree. However, on entering the theatre it became apparent that this was not the case, and that instead the company had utilised feathers, white fibre and wadding, which with imaginative lighting and billowing winds was immensely effective (although I couldn’t help wondering whether children with asthma and allergies might not get on too well, and might be advised to sit near the back. We were right at the front and could’ve certainly have done with a “de-linting” after the show had ended!).
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Theatre Review: French Tales – The Untold Story of Sleeping Beauty at Institut Francais

by Sarah Cope

I have come to the conclusion that there are two types of shows put on for children. There is the type of show that takes into account the particular needs and foibles of this audience. The cast and the director will realise that children need short, snappy scenes, visual splendour and clear delivery. They need the action to be bold and they need to be seated in a way that takes into account their small stature. It seems obvious really, but then there is the other type of show…

This category of children’s show neglects all of the above, and as a result fails to engage its audience, leaving parents wondering how they could have better spent the ticket fee and also the time. Unfortunately, French Tales at the Institut Francais falls, in my opinion, most distinctly into the latter category.

The Institut is putting on different stories and plays each Saturday, so judging the calibre of every performance just by last Saturday’s show is perhaps not entirely fair; we can only hope that this was a blip in an otherwise marvellous season.

On arrival at the Institut Francais, signs were not good. People queued, unsure what they were queuing for, whilst children whined and misbehaved. So far, so bad. When the show eventually started, it became clear that it was to be staged in various different locations within the Institut, which meant following a “tour guide” around the building. This is never going to be easy with children, especially when, as we were at two points, positioned on some stairs for a whole scene.

My four-year-old mainly saw the backs of adults’ legs, and could hear very little. Sitting down on the floor, she whispered “Can we go home now?” I knew how she felt.

The premise was that our hapless ‘tour guide’ was showing us the palace where Sleeping Beauty had lived, but that things kept going wrong. At one point, two very stereotypical young female Japanese tourists interrupted the show, yelping “Photo! Photo!” One middle-class parent muttered to another middle-class parent “Well, that’s a bit…”, the unsaid word being ‘racist’. Yes, it was a bit.

After half an hour or so of following our ‘tour guide’ as she pretended that things were going very wrong (she really didn’t need to pretend!), my daughter and I cut our losses and left.

Back to the drawing board, Institut Francais.

Saturday French Tales continues throughout March.

Theatre Review: The Insect Circus at Jackson’s Lane Theatre

by Sarah Cope

Many shows market themselves as suitable for all ages, and The Insect Circus is no different, proclaiming in its promotional literature that it’s suitable for ages 0 -100. I took my three-year-old daughter along to see whether this was the case.

Trapeze acts – injected with burlesque humour (think cheesecake facial expressions) and remote control ladybirds both featured, as did cross-dressing (always massively confusing for small children!) and a bed of nails.

Some of the acrobatic feats were spectacularly impressive (who’d have thought it was possible to twirl 20 hula hoops at once?), and the one-liners from the compere, geared more to the adults in the audience than the children, meant the show hung together despite the disparate acts.

At one point the front row were covered in plastic sheeting by ‘nurse nursey’, which brought much suspense to proceedings. It turned out that her well-trained dust mites were having an off-day, and soon baby powder and tea were being spurted everywhere. If it sounds bizarre it’s because it was. I was reminded of the occasion when I was hit in the glasses by a Baby Belle cheese at a burlesque night – but that’s another story.

So was this rather odd and undeniably entertaining ‘circus’ suitable for all ages? Well, when three actors came out dressed as flies (we were told they were craving “love and infection”), and darted amongst the audience, some of the youngest children wailed in terror.

Perhaps if they raised the age rating to three years-plus they would be nearer the mark. But that’s a minor complaint about what is a spectacular and unique show.

The Insect Circus has finished touring for this year but will commence again in 2011. More details.

Theatre Review: The Railway Children, Waterloo Station Eurostar Terminal

By Sarah Cope

What to do with an unused Eurostar terminal? Perhaps the far from obvious answer is to stage a version of E.S. Nesbitt’s children’s classic, The Railway Children, complete with a real steam train.

After walking through the rather airless and abandoned terminal, complete with closed-down shops, stained carpets, and cockroach traps, the audience is ushered into a sectioned-off part of the track, where banks of seating rise either side (platform 1 and platform 2, of course).

It’s a clever idea, but will the play live up to both the aggressive marketing and also the 1970s film version, always a stalwart feature of the Christmas television schedule?

There were some curious casting decisions – young adults play the children, and they tell the story in the past tense, almost taking for granted that the audience is already au fait with the plot.

There were a surprising amount of laughs to be had – good one-liners such as “We saved lives with our underwear” after the children wave their red flannel petticoats in order to avert a certain rail catastrophe.

Also rather knowing was the way in which the actors alluded to the restrictions of the staging – the scene in the tunnel, rather wonderfully done with black netting and effective lighting, was preceded by the warning, “Now for this part you’ll all have to use your imaginations.”

The steam train makes two (rather slow and perhaps slightly anticlimactic) appearances, including in the last scene, where the eldest daughter, Bobbie, is reunited with her father. This is the infamous scene from the film, guaranteed to get
audiences blubbering in unison. There were plenty of tears and sniffling sounds in the auditorium at that point, so it must have passed the tissue test.

It’s a shame that ticket prices are so steep – £20 to £45 – with no reductions for children’s tickets, means only rich children will be going to see this play about poor children, which is somewhat of an unfortunate irony.

The show is now running, with online booking.

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