Unity Theatre, Liverpool – until 16 February 2019
Children’s theatre isn’t often something you’ll find breaking the mould. Sure, there’s stage adaptations of TV shows and books, which while they have their place and can be rather enjoyable, they’re arguably often not much more than an extension of a money-spinning brand. And panto… well, it’s panto, you know what you’re getting there. There’s a lot of very good family entertainment too, that’s kept a few generations of us all amused in one go. But what is largely missing is something that simply exists to speak to a very young audience and keeps them in mind at all times.
Enter our own 20 Stories High and Theatre Rites, with their new collaboration Big Up! Devised in workshops up and down the country, Big Up! places its three to six-year-old audience demographic right at the heart and soul of the piece. Everything is done with them in mind, and this is its superpower. It shows. Never patronising or cynical, no knowing winks to adults, it has an energy and imagination that speaks to – and is clearly inspired by – the youngsters it exists to entertain.
The children in the audience pick up on these vibes right away and are fully engaged, laughing and interacting throughout. Beatboxer Hobbit kicks things off before teaming up with vocalist Dorcas Sebuyange, who sings hopefully about waiting for her moment to shine. (Each have worked with 20 Stories High before, on previous productions Melody Loses her Mojo and I Told My Mum I Was Going on an RE Trip… respectively.)
Puppeteers Iestyn Evans and Clarke Joseph-Edwards then begin to make the simple props – microphone stands, cables, speakers and flight cases – around them take on lives of their own, with Hobbit providing the sound effects like Michael Winslow meets Professor Green. All the elements in this largely non-verbal show come together when the cast find a cute baby alien who needs a little looking after. To get on in life, he has to ‘big up’ himself to grow and evolve – hey, don’t we all?
The sensory elements of the show – coloured lights, neon cables and shapes – inadvertently captivate the attention of even babies in the audience. This is the kind of children’s theatre experience a parent dreams of. Positive, joyous and bursting with good vibes, it’s fun, fresh, musical and modern. Thanks to Big Up, the future’s bright.
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