A couple of days ago, watching some short playlets inspired by the ever popular Roald Dahl (muck + rumble’s Telling Tales) reminded me that I had rather fallen behind with my reviews of children’s theatre; it must be all those pantos I watched over Christmas. I had also realised that I had yet to see any of the finalists in the ‘Children’ category for the forthcoming OnComm Awards – a Dahl adaptation being one of them. So, with those imperatives in mind, I thought I’d get myself into the playground.
First, I headed to children’s show specialist Half Moon Theatre for their shortlisted production of Paper Aeroplane. Produced by the Lots Of Odds company and devised by Claire Burns, Michael Consalves and Amber-Rose May it’s an endlessly inventive piece in the way it replicates children playing and utilising imagination to conjure up anything and everything.
Plane obsessed Henry Jennings is initially reluctant to let Stasa Dukic be part of his game. It is something that he and his dad used to do together but his father is gone and he’s still coming to terms with it; there’s sensitive handling of this particular aspect. Gradually however the rapport builds between them and they explore the skies together. Nor do they confine themselves to the air. One scene is set at sea (they have, of course, arrived in a sea plane) where clever use is made of sound to represent the underwater world and there is some rudimentary yet delightful puppetry employed.
Rather more sophisticated puppets form the basis of Little Angel Theatre’s Clever Cakes but then that is this venue’s particular speciality. This short tale comes from children’s laureate Michael Rosen who supplies his own lively narration.
The story involves young, clever Masha outwitting a rather greedy bear who makes the girl do all the housework while he sits with his feet (sorry, paws) up. She’s having none of it and strikes back with a cunning plan bringing this particularly patriarchy to its knees. The puppeteer/performer is Nix Wood who does all the character voices and manipulates the puppets (I think they would be classified as rod puppets, but I’m definitely no expert) which are made from the pages of a book and are absolutely charming. It’s an engaging ten minutes or so and a pleasant change of pace while admiring the skill of all concerned. The Little Angel Theatre actually has two finalists in the Children’s category. Unfortunately, There’s A Bear On My Chair is not currently available.
Like Michael Rosen, Roald Dahl retains his status as one of the A list of children’s writers and an exuberant production of The Twits by the Unicorn Theatre does justice to his anarchic spirit. Possibly two of the foulest looking and thinking people ever created play a series of horrible tricks on each other involving frogs in the bed, worms posing as spaghetti and attempts to convince each other that they are coming down with a bad case of “the shrinks”. This is only outdone by the revolting fate they inflict on animals, particularly the way they capture birds for the weekly feast of Bird Pie. Martina Laird and Zubin Varla are the storytellers and put over the story with energy and conviction brining the various characters to life with their vocal skills. Although this is billed as a reading, it is obviously so much more than that. The director Ned Bennett allows the two actors to let rip and throws in all manner of visual and aural delights to keep things thoroughly entertaining.
It’s good to know that these three productions from three of the most prolific creators of children’s theatre have all made the OnComm finalist’s list which is thoroughly deserved. It made for a nice change of pace engaging with the shows but on reflection they had their darker side. After all, putting on plays that deal with bereavement, gender stereotyping and domestic abuse may not be the first topics one might think of when constructing a show for children.