Having promised myself the day before that, after watching a week of mankind’s inhumanity to its own, I’d find something to review which avoided more death and destruction, I reasoned that some children’s theatre might fit the bill. And, after rather a surfeit of this over the Christmas period, it had been some time since I had gone down that particular pathway so the time was right on that front too. The Half Moon Theatre in the east end of London can usually be relied on for quality product and they are just in the middle of streaming a trilogy of filmed plays so I settled down to watch a pair of these.
First up was a play called Dust written by award winning children’s writer Laura Dockrill. The target age range for this is 4-9 year olds but even at my advanced age I could appreciate the love and care with which this play has been put together. It’s the story of Titch (Faye Weerasinghe) who goes to live with Nelly (Katherine Vernez-Gray) who isn’t quite what the girl expects. The eccentric Nelly lives in a dilapidated neon pink house with everything covered in a layer of dust. Much to Titch’s amazement Nelly doesn’t see why she should be bothered about this; to her the dust is a constant reminder of the past and why would you want to get rid of that? Rather it, not to mention the Dust Monster, should be embraced and even cherished. Gradually Titch readjusts her priorities and the duo prepare for a harmonious future.
The set is the most appealing feature of the play and Peter Norton has created something that suggests the exterior and the various interiors of the strange house with a rotating mobile of dust covered memories as represented by a pile of books and an ancient gramophone with actual discs (adults be prepared to explain what this is to your downloading/streaming youngsters).
Meanwhile, Hugo White’s haunting soundtrack and songs help clarify the emotions being portrayed by the actors. There’s a good deal of puppetry action with Titch manipulating a miniature version of herself when in her room where she can reveal her frightened inner self as opposed to the brash exterior she tries to put on. This is a captivating play which might be a little long for the lower end of the age range but at least with this version of theatre you can hit the pause button.
There’s a melancholy undertow in Dust so I didn’t feel I’d quite hit the brief for avoiding the darker side of life. What I really needed was something that had the real feelgood factor, so I headed towards a second piece called Party.
As this was badged for 2-4 year olds, surely there wouldn’t be anything negative included. And, unless you count the character’s boredom in the early scenes and some trepidation about what to expect, that turned out to be exactly the case. This short play emphasises fun with its emphasis on physical comedy and a brightly coloured set.
There’s only one performer and apart from an offstage voice all is absolutely silent so there’s absolutely no language barrier to get in the way. Afonso is a Portuguese boy who gets an invitation to a party, reacts with excited abandon and prepares for the event. Indeed, one of the values of the piece lies in the fact that adults can use it to help children understand the conventions of party going; what to wear, the cake, the fact that when there’s a present it’s for someone else – not you, are all tackled thoughtfully and positively. Once again, the soundtrack by Mark Newnham with strands of Europop and more traditional Portuguese fado is integral to the success of the piece.
Afonso is played with glee by Simon Victor who is nothing like a small boy but through sheer exuberance manages to convince that he is, displaying the varied and often fleeting emotions that the very young can portray. He works in the clowning/mime tradition with the emphasis on the physical. The sight of a burly, bearded, bald man dressed in a tutu, tailcoat, string vest and pink boots, rushing around the stage and jumping up and down with excitement is enough to make anyone smile … and I did. Finally, mission accomplished!