Children’s Theatre Magazine is linking up with the premier website for all things children’s theatre. Edited by Flossie Waite Children’s Theatre Reviews aims to: start conversations about children’s theatre; offer good quality, intelligent criticism; encourage attendance at children’s theatre; support accessibility to children’s theatre; and write about companies and productions that are often overlooked by the mainstream media.
It’s safe to say that the Christmas of ’92 – when 23-month-old me was taken to 22 productions – marked the beginning of my love for children’s theatre. Over twenty years after this introduction, I’m keen to share how exciting, innovative, inspiring, original and truly magical so much of theatre for young audiences is.
I work with children’s theatre company, Page One. I completed an MPhil in Children’s Literature, with a thesis exploring why children’s theatre isn’t taken seriously in academia. I have also worked as a drama workshop assistant at Polka Theatre, and gained experience at Sonia Friedman Productions and Mousetrap Theatre Projects. I was formerly the editor of artsawardvoice.com, an online magazine created by young people, for young people interested in the arts. My writing on theatre for young audiences has also appeared in Children’s Theatre Magazine and Theatre & Performance Guide & Guru Magazine (both online and in print).
Gammo (Helena Middleton), Betty (Jesse Meadows) and Alph (Ben Vardy) put in a huge amount of energy
The Time Seekers. Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol. Ages 3-8
Inventive, improvisational and educational. The Wardrobe Theatre Ensemble and the Wardrobe Theatre’s production of The Time Seekers is noisy, necessarily anarchic and chaotic but it is also a well-constructed show that embraces the audience with open arms and indeed bandages.
Gammo (Helena Middleton), Betty (Jesse Meadows) and Alph (Ben Vardy) put a huge amount of energy into taking the audience on a journey through time to recover four Chrono-Clock pieces which will save the planet from total destruction. We meet a poo-asaurus (a new type of dinosaur suggested by a member of the audience), an eccentric Egyptian pyramid, a grumpy robot and Betty in a futuristic guise. All of this is possible with a time machine that needs food to fire it up, sound effects and some neat lighting along with a movable four sided set on wheels to give a semblance of a backdrop to the quirky scenes designed by Nicola Holter.
Directed by Helena Middleton and aided by Matthew Whittle, the show races along at near galactic pace with infectious movement and songs that sweep up the audience into a frenzy of excitement. Jack Drewry’s musical direction added an extra dimension along with repetitive movement picked up by the audience every time The Time Seekers shifted time zones.
Simple household items were made use of for props such as green socks to represent the humid vegetation of the dinosaur world while the cast used their (and the audience’s) imagination to tell the story of the hunt through time. Some younger children were overwhelmed by the frenetic energy and the constant bombardment of information although they seemed engaged, while more confident and older children of seven and eight were often so over excited they wanted to join the cast in the performance area.
With colour coordinated outfits and with the tone of enthusiastic geography teachers there was an undeniable CBeebies feel to the style. The narrative was clear but with few quieter or reflective moments or even character development the production is more of a show than a play.
Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales. Bristol Old Vic. Age 3+
There was an atmosphere of babbling tiny voices (coupled with the calming tones of parents trying to dampen down a growing sense of excitement) as the audience awaited the arrival of the cast of Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales.
The Bristol Old Vic’s main house was near to capacity as Maryam Grace, Alex Tosh and Anna Larkin entered wearing brimmed hats, colourful jackets and carrying an assortment of props. With two step ladders joined by a plank, various boxes and a table the cast brought to life Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales. Using a mixture of song, simple dialogue, mime, choreographed movement and physical theatre the trio told the story of Tiddler the fish who was always late the Monkey who had lost his mummy, The Smartest Giant in Town and A Squash and a Squeeze. For those expecting the stories to centre on Tiddler there may have been disappointment as it was the monkey whose story was most predominant but perhaps that is a small point in a show that had so much content and action.
The Freckle production of Scamp Theatre’s drama was driven by musical director Brian Hargreaves and Georgia Green with Chris Pirie as puppetry and associate director. His use of everyday objects such as gloves and dusters must have kept costs down but also worked as a joke which the audience were in on from the first appearance of the monkey portrayed by some rope.
There was some fidgeting in the ranks of the pre-school audience although this seemed to more to do with the fascination of the tip up seats. And there’s a story in itself as pre-school and primary school children find the experience of a visit to the theatre in the seating, the steps, the toilets and watching other children almost as important as the drama.
Inventive, funny and at times purely silly the stories engaged the audience in a setting that could have been too large for this small scale production but with microphones to help projection and huge energy the hour long show kept the concentration of hundreds of tiddlers (and their parents).
The show continues until February 18th before a tour of numerous theatres in the UK before ending in June at Bury St Edmunds at the Theatre Royal.
Are pirate captains really posh boys gone wrong? Harry Mottram sets sail to investigate the unscary world of pirates and children
Shot, stabbed and made to walk the plank. Poor pirates. Abused by children from the moment they appeared in print and outwitted ever since. Peter Pan ran rings around Captain Hook, while Jim Hawkins shot Israel Hands at point blank range in Treasure Island, and young Nancy Kington and Minerva Sharpe were more than a match for Bartolome the Brazilian, in Celia Rees’s Pirates! novel.
Pirates are the lovable baddies who for all their bluster and colourful dress are beatable. They make the same mistakes of all baddies. Their arrogance and bluster gives the young protagonists a chance to trick them into mistakes and eventually beat them. OK, younger children may be scared of them at first, but secretly they are no more than pantomime villains.
Confrontation: Jim Hawkings (Bobby Driscoll) meets Long John Silver (Robert Newton) in the 1950 movie of Treasure Island
But there’s something else: they represent a sense of freedom, adventure and escape. We are of course talking about the traditional 18th century pirate portrayed in Treasure Island, Pirates of the Caribbean and fantasies such as Peter Pan. Today’s pirates of the Somalian coast who butcher, blackmail and extort don’t quite fit the criteria, despite the fact they are barely distinguishable in commercial activities from the tricorn hat wearers of another age.
Double act: Christian Bale and Charlton Heston in Treasure Island (1990)
If there is one characteristic that binds fictional pirates together it is class. Despite their desperate image they have all been well educated. It’s just they’ve gone wrong. In Peter Pan we have a posh villain in Captain Hook who is “never more sinister than when he is most polite, and the elegance of his diction, the distinction of his demeanour, show him one of a different class from his crew…” Long John Silver is rather more down to earth but nevertheless is equally aloof from the sea salts who make up his band of mutineers as the coxswain tells Jim Hawkins: “He had good schooling in his young days, and can speak like a book when so minded…” And in Arthur Ransome’s Missee Lee, the eponymous female pirate is a frustrated Latin scholar who has ended up as a buccaneer by accident.
Sword fight: Peter Pan out wits Captain Hook in the Disney cartoon version of JM Barrie’s novel
Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean attempts to convince us he’s a rough sort but his dandy manners and affected deportment were clearly no stranger to silk as a child. Children aren’t afraid of the mincing buccaneer. They love him and his one liners. He’s the cheeky kid who out smarts the teacher and almost gets away with it. The authors’ subtext in all of these pirate yarns is a warning to children who think they can be naughty and get away with it. Poverty, prison and crocodiles await, even if the writer gives them a get out of jail free card so as to keep the possibility of a sequel alive.
Pirate girl: Nancy Blackett played by Celia Adams (left) in Bristol Old Vic’s version of the Arthur Ransome novel Swallows and Amazons in 2010 squares up to Titty played by Akiya Henry
Fictional pirates of children’s literature have another more pertinent purpose – to be brought down a peg by their nemesis: children . Whether it is Nancy Kington in Celia Rees’ Pirates!, Oliver Finch in Sid Fleishman’s The Ghost In The Noonday Sun, or even Nancy Blackett in Arthur Ransome’s Missee Lee, the young protagonists are full of self-confidence, resourcefulness and intelligence. All are ideal children who we’d all like to have as our own or can identify with. It’s another subtle message from the writers: be good and with a bit of pluck you can defeat baddies.
Below is the official trailer for the 1990 film version of Treasure Island that had a young Christian Bale as Jim Hawkins and Charlton Heston as Long John Silver:
Tiddler and other Terrific Tales is on tour this spring. Photo Robin Savage
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales directed by Sally Cookson is currently on a marathon tour starting in Bromley and continuing until June when it ends in Bury St Edmunds. The production is by the team behind Stick Man Live, a play that has also visited theatres across the country in the last few years. It is an original Scamp Theatre production staged this time by Freckle Productions. More details at http://tiddlerlive.com/Under the sea, out on the farm and into the jungle, these terrific tales are woven together with live music, puppetry and a whole host of colourful characters from Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler’s best-loved titles: Tiddler, Monkey Puzzle, The Smartest Giant in Town and A Squash and a Squeeze. More children’s theatre at http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/
10 – 11 Feb BROMLEY Churchill Theatre020 3285 6000
12 – 13 Feb RICHMOND Theatre0844 871 7651
15 – 18 Feb BRISTOL Old Vic0117 987 7877
19 Feb GUILDFORD G Live01483 369350
22 – 23 Feb CARDIFF Sherman Theatre029 2064 6900
24 – 25 Feb TAUNTON The Brewhouse01823 283 244
26 – 27 Feb BOURNEMOUTH Pavilion Theatre0844 576 3000
1 -3 Mar DARTFORD Orchard Theatre01322 220000
4 Mar LONDON artsdepot020 8369 5454
12 – 13 Mar SOUTHPORT Theatre0844 871 3021
16 – 18 Mar SALFORD QUAYS The Lowry0843 208 6010
26 – 27 Mar LLANDUDNO Venue Cymru01492 872000
28 Mar LYTHAM ST ANNES Lowther Pavilion01253 794 221
30 Mar – 3 Ap BIRMINGHAM Town Hall0121 780 3333
5 -6 Apr COLCHESTER Mercury01206 573948
7 Apr READING Hexagon0118 960 6060
8 -9 Apr WATFORD Palace Theatre01923 225671
11 – 15 Apr LONDON Leicester Square Theatre020 7734 2222
Travelling Light is an innovative company creating theatre for children and families. This is from The Ugly Duckling staged at The Tobacco Factory. Pic Mark Dawson
Towards the end of 2014, Flossie Waite and her colleagues put together a list of children’s theatre-related Twitter accounts to follow on her website https://childrenstheatrereviews.com/
Last year they updated the list as the numbers have grown. The list includes individuals, venues, companies, festivals and organisations that are creating, supporting, presenting or writing about theatre for young audiences. And it keeps on getting longer as more people take an interest in the creative and long neglected genre. Here is part one of that ever increasing list – fully updated since last year by Harry Mottram:
Producing companies @A1000Cranes A Thousand Cranes was co-founded by artistic directors Kumiko Mendl & Vicky Ireland. The company aim to bring the ‘stories, traditions, art forms and artists of Japan’ to children’s theatre in the UK. @floodsofink When we first encountered Floods of Ink in 2014, it was hard to believe they were an emerging company, as their work was already so accomplished and polished. A few years later, and Floods of Ink are continuing to create high-quality work for young people, whether their audience are under six or teenagers. @CWheelsTheatre Award-winning company Catherine Wheels have toured across the world, including to New York, where Sex and the City star Sarah Jessica Parker described show White as ‘the best 40 minutes of my life’. @feveredsleep Fevered Sleep’s artistic, surreal tweets are always a joy. The company make brave, experimental, challenging new work in performance, installation, film, publication and digital art. @tuttifruttiprod tutti frutti work with acclaimed playwrights like Mike Kenny and Emma Reeves to create new shows with original scripts that are both entertaining and relevant to their young audience. @theatriolo Theatr Iolo want to welcome babies to the theatre at 6 months old, and continue to create work that will engage and excite them for the rest of their life. @oilycart Oily Cart create multi-sensory, immersive and highly interactive productions for very young children (aged 6 months – 6 years), and for young people (aged 3 – 19) with profound and multiple learning disabilities, who have an autism spectrum condition, or who are deafblind.
Oily Cart’s In a Pickle with the RSC brought a Shakespeare play to life
@hullabalootweet Theatre Hullabaloo, based in the North East, make, tour and promote high quality theatre for young people, who they consider the most important audience of all. They also produce the annual TakeOff Festival. @TCLive Theatre Centre have been touring new writing to venues and schools around the country for over 60 years. The company aim to encourage youth activism and empower young leadership through the arts. @20StoriesHigh Our first experience of 20 Stories High was their 2016 co-production with Theatre-Rites, The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective; even now, we can’t stop thinking about it. The Liverpool-based company make theatre with and for young people, producing work that is honest, political and challenging. Facebook: hetfiliaaltheatermakers The multi-layered, entertaining work of Het Filiaal, who are based in the Dutch city of Utrecht. @KOPERGIETERY Kopergietery is actually a children’s arts centre in Gent, though they tour their unpredictable, zany, beautiful work outside of Belgium. We came into contact with them at the 2016 Edinburgh International Children’s Festival. @ZooNationUK Watch a ZooNation production and your face will hurt from smiling. Responsible for the first ever hip hop dance production on the West End, the company often adapt fairytales and children’s books using their own high-energy, humorous, imaginative style. @PetitsTheatre Les Petits Theatre Company is the children’s arm of the acclaimed Les Enfants Terribles. Les Petits adapt children’s books, both new (David Walliams’ The First Hippo on the Moon) and old (Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland).
@Freckle_Prods Jennifer Sutherland, co-founder of the multi-award winning Scamp Theatre, recently launched Freckle Productions. The new company will continue to focus on productions for children, young people and families, but with a broader output of work: as well as stage adaptations, there will be original and emerging tales, ancient stories, and explorations of science and the environment. @tl_theatre Bristol-based Travelling Light Theatre Company have been making highly visual, story-led theatre for young audiences for over 30 years. @birminghamstage Since 1992, the Birmingham Stage Company have produced over 80 productions for adults and children. Most recently, these have included popular adaptations of the Horrible Histories series, of Roald Dahl’s books, and David Walliams’s recent releases. @2_ndhanddance Second Hand Dance keep children central to their creative process, working with young people to develop and play with ideas for their shows. @TurnedOnItsHead Turned On Its Head create interactive theatrical experiences for the very young, with their productions encouraging and offering opportunities for children and adults to engage and play together. @wrongsemble Wrongsemble pride themselves on creating shows accessible to everyone, ‘from the young of passport to the young of heart’. @Papertaleshows Papertale is the spoken word theatre company led by Rosemary Harris. Papertale’s lyrical productions confront important topics, from gender identity to asylum-seeking. @reallybptheatre Really Big Pants Theatre Company pull each performance (and pair of big pants) out of their huge travelling trunk. Often tied to educational themes, their productions aim to complement the primary school curriculum. @_oldsaw Old Saw create productions from their base in Northwest Iceland. Recent shows have been for very young children, like Meadow aimed at ages 3-6, and Duvet Day, for babies and toddlers aged 0-18 months. @frozentheatre Frozen Light Theatre Company was created by two friends who met at university and went on to develop their own form of multi-sensory theatre for audiences with profound and multiple learning disabilities. @bigwintheatre Key to Big Window Theatre’s ethos is creating work that is accessible to all, culturally, financially and geographically. They also collaborate with local practitioners, venues and companies in order to promote and develop theatre within the East Midlands. @PiedPiperLive Another long-standing company is Pied Piper Theatre, who have been producing plays for young audiences since 1984. While originally much of Pied Piper’s work was new writing by Artistic Director Tina Williams, the company also tour new adaptations, like the Janet and Allan Ahlberg classic Burglar Bill. @TravelledC Travelled Companions create original shows for young audiences; they perfectly pitch their engaging productions to meet children at their level. @filskittheatre Filskit, a trio of theatremakers, have been using multimedia technology (in particular, projectors) to create high-quality children’s theatre since 2009. @TheatreLovett Irish company Theatre Lovett create imaginative, fun, surprising and daring productions for young audiences. @thewidders Widdershins Theatre tell fairytales, folk tales and myths from around the world using puppetry and quirky props.
Running Wild by Air Theatre with Ava Potter as Lilly with Oona. Photo Johan Persson.
@TheatreAlibi Theatre Alibi draw on a variety of art forms to tell their stories, with recent productions including puppetry, animation, film, photography and music. @GomitoTheatre Gomito Theatre is a collaboration between an ever-changing collection of artists. With each performance, the company aim to bring an all-age audience of story-lovers together. @pinsandneedles0 Pins and Needles Productions have gained praise for their stellar adaptations of Raymond Briggs’ work – in their review of The Bear, The Guardian said ‘move over War Horse, this polar puppet is magic’. @Bamboozlenews Bamboozle Theatre create multi-sensory theatrical experiences for young people with moderate to profound learning difficulties, and young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties. @HorseandBamboo Horse + Bamboo is a puppet and mask company that have been creating theatre for almost 40 years. As well as touring their work, the company host a programme of productions, workshops, an annual puppet festival and more at The Boo, their venue in Lancashire. @ATTtweet Action Transport Theatre put children at the heart of their creative process; each of their productions is a result of this collaboration. @wriggledance Wriggle Dance Theatre create interactive dance performances for young children and their families. Community outreach and engagement accompanies every production, to reach and introduce new audiences to. @StarcatchersUK Starcatchers is Scotland’s National Arts and Early Years organization, specializing in theatre and creative experiences and activity for children aged 0-5. @hellolittleblue Little Blue Monster have taken over from Blunderbus. East Midlands company that create shows based on popular children’s books, like Oliver Jeffers’ Lost and Found, and their own original stories @LongNosePuppets In just over a decade, Long Nose Puppets have created four puppet shows for children that have been performed in all sorts of places, from the National Gallery to Downing Street. @ReplayTheatreCo Based in Northern Ireland but touring internationally, Replay Theatre Company create theatre for young people under the age of 19. In 2015 they created the world’s first ever BabyDay, offering over 80 events across venues in Belfast @scamptheatre Scamp Theatre produce adaptations of hugely successful children’s literature; most recently, a collaboration with Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler has seen Scamp bring The Scarecrows’ Wedding and Stick Man to the stage. @KazzumArts Kazzum create ‘playful theatre in unusual places’, whether that’s a festival, a shopping centre or a car park. @TheatreRites Theatre-Rites have been creating experimental theatre for children since 1995. With their ‘object-led’ theatre, Theatre-Rites have produced site responsive pieces as well as toured shows nationally and internationally.
@garlic_theatre Garlic Theatre create imaginative, sometimes surreal, highly visual puppet theatre for young audiences and their families. @ripstoptheatre Created by theatremaker Zannie Fraser, Ripstop Theatre initially produced shadow theatre for young audiences, though their work has since developed to include other forms of puppetry and storytelling, always expertly designed. @WizardPresents Wizard Presents’s hugely successful adaptations of Michael Morpurgo’s books Why The Whales Came and I Believe In Unicorns have been seen by tens of thousands of children all over the country. @fishngame Fish And Game, the Glasgow-based performance company, create shows ‘straddling theatre, live art and visual art’. Over the past few years, their polar bear-inspired shows have toured both nationally and internationally. @TellTaleHeart Tell Tale Hearts devises and tours accessible participatory theatre for children that combines installation, puppetry, performance, music and projection.
For more theatre companies and children’s theatre visit
The RSC have a number of events for schools this year Pic Rob Freeman
You can’t beat live theatre when studying a text for school says Harry Mottram. And he offers some productions of interest to schools this spring
Students studying drama as part of English Literature GCSE and A Level courses have a number of shows to see at the theatre this year.
Yes there’s been a row about whether students even need to visit a theatre to see a live play or whether they can make do with a live screening instead, but unless the school is on an island in the middle of the Atlantic it should be possible for the teachers to organise a trip to see at least one of the plays being studied.
The AQA board list the Shakespeare plays of Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure and The Winter’s Tale as part of the Love Through The Ages theme, while OCR include in their section on pre 1900 drama the plays of Coriolanus, Hamlet, Measure for Measure, Richard III, The Tempest and Twelfth Night. And Macbeth is on the reading list for the IGCSE this year.
Othello is being staged at the Unicorn Theatre in London
The National Theatre in London is staging Macbeth this spring (and it will also be screened live in May) at the Olivier Theatre running from February 28. While they will also have a production aimed at younger children of A Winter’s Tale at the Dorfman Theatre from February 14-28. Macbeth is also being staged from February 22 to April 7 at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol and there’s also a production of the Scottish play at the Royal Shakespeare company in Stratford-upon-Avon from March 13 to September 18 with a live broadcast on April 11.
The Unicorn Theatre in London has a production of Othello on from February 3 – March 3, especially created for children. The theatre said: “Inspired by William Shakespeare’s great tragedy, this is a modern, funny and inspired play by Belgian playwright Ignace Cornelissen (Henry the Fifth, The Hunting Lodge) that brings the story of Othello to life for younger audiences and reflects on the nature of relationships, friendships and how our flaws and feelings can blind us to the truth.” Hamlet will tread the boards this spring with a production by the Royal Shakespeare company that will be taking a tour of the play to Salford, Plymouth, Hull, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Northampton between January and March 2018, before transferring to London’s Hackney Empire between 6 and 31 March 2018. In contrast to the blood and near madness of Hamlet the RSC’s production of the comedy Twelth Night continues in Stratford-upon-Avon until February 28th, with a live screening on St Valentine’s at cinemas across the country.
Some of the texts listed by the examination board are novels and these are often staged – albeit in adapted or abridged versions although they can help a student with the interpretation and themes of the book. George Elliot’s The Mill on the Floss is being staged by the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School this summer with a tour of venues across the South West including the Tivoli in Wimborne on July 5th. Meanwhile in Guildford there’s an adaptation for the stage of Jane Austen’s Persuasion by theatre6 at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre And Mill Studio. By their nature adaptions condense a novel, especially the lengthy 19th century novels listed as core texts but nevertheless they are perfect for discussion and analysis afterwards.
Meanwhile in East Kilbride in Scotland Studion 32 are putting on Caryl Churchill’s Top Girls from March 14-17 at the arts centre in the town while at the other end of the British Isles Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire is playing at Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre from March 23-31 and June 5-16. This revival of the classic play on the list of texts for study this year is co-production with Theatr Clwyd and English Touring Theatre, it will be directed by the winner of this year’s Sir Peter Hall Director Award, Chelsea Walker. Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House gets a make-over with an updated version on Thurs 17th May at the Arts Centre in Bromsgrove with an adaption by Theatrical Niche. It may not be the exact text of the play but again with the main theme and driven protagonist the play is ripe for discussion and helps to bring to life the drama for students in the 21st century.
A streetcar Named Desire is on in Cambridge
London’s National Theatre has a production of Translations by Brian Friel from May as Ian Rickson directs a cast which includes Colin Morgan in the powerful account of language and nationhood. And another modern text taking a look back at this country’s colonial past that is on the list of texts to study is Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker. A production of the drama set in Australia will be on tour at the Nottingham Playhouse, New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Sheffield Crucible and Birmingham Rep from March 9, 2018 – June 2, 2018 with the Ramps on the Moon company who integrate disabled actors into their cast. The play is a hardy perennial so you’ll find more than one production including those by amdram and student groups on stage this year – so worth doing a Google search for the play along with the others listed by the examination boards.
This is by no means a complete list of the plays that are available to view this year for students but it shows how many are already being promoted as early as last autumn. Local theatre groups often leave promoting their shows until a few weeks before curtain up so it is worth doing a search even quite late in the term. Some of the best productions are those found locally or performed by colleges where youthful exuberance can inject added energy into a production – and of course the tickets are cheaper.
Studying a play in a classroom can seem dry but seeing it performed live will bring it to life so it is vital to organise a trip to see a show even if it means a long journey and a late night. Writing in October 2013 for the Guardian Lyn Gardner said: “Last week I sat in the Unicorn theatrewatching Ellen McDougall’s superb production of Henry the Fifth, a play which responds to Shakespeare’s play of the same name. Like Shakespeare’s play in which the chorus asks the audience to ‘piece out our imperfections with your thought’ so Ignace Cornelissen’s play is a call to arms for the imagination, getting a young audience to imagine a different world, a different story for themselves, an alternative narrative and to empathise with another point of view.”
And there are other benefits of a visit to a theatre. From experiencing the arts first hand, to visiting a world they may not have entered previously to giving ideas for future projects and even opening up career choices seeing live theatre is impossible to match. YouTube, the cinema and live screenings have their place but exposing children who are studying a text to live theatre can have a transforming affect.
The History of the English Puppet Theatre. By George Speaight.
First published in the 1950s and updated in 1990 this could seem an outdated volume on an aspect of theatre that had long since disappeared apart from at children’s parties and on TV. Since its reprint a quarter of a century ago puppetry has re-entered the mainstream and is no longer seen as ‘just for kids’.
Last month we reviewed Dead Dog in a Suitcase by Kneehigh – a musical play for older children and teenagers that used used puppetry as part of the show. Today it appears puppetry has come of age where it can seemlessly form part of a play watched by adults and no longer confined to Punch and Judy and other traditional puppet shows for children.
Speaight traces the origins of puppetry from the masked performers of Rome and Greece to the mummers of the middle ages, the comedie d’art of medieval France and finally the ealy puppet theatres of Civil War England.
Meet the Lupinos who travelled to this country in the time of Shakespeare, and the Jones family who toured their puppet theatre in 1630s London. In flowing prose Speaight charts Punchinello, Jacobean puppetry and the rise of Georgian Patagonian theatre and Mr Punch.
A puppeteer himself Speaight’s book may seem dated ending as it does in the 1920s but there is much detail here together with a plea for the world of puppetry to be taken seriously. His wish has come true in part. Writing about the 20th century revival he declares: “Puppeteers in England today ask for three things. They ask for a permanent puppet theatre in London… They ask for intelligent informed and constructive criticism… …and they ask for for the recognition…”
We don’t have a national puppet theatre, but at least his wishes for puppetry to have come of age have taken place within a decade of his death in 2005. Rupert Bridgwater The book is still available online and at most lending libraries.