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.
Dinner party from hell: Lady Macbeth was played by Katy Stephens. Photos all by Mark Dawson
Macbeth. Tobacco Factory, Bristol. Age: 10+
The noise, the violence and the flickering lighting: the Tobacco Factory Theatre’s production of Macbeth is not for the faint hearted. Which is why school children and students should see Shakespeare’s tragedy stripped back to its core emotions in a visceral and violent production.
However there are a couple of problems which hamper its success: the gravel and the sound. The performance area is covered in a thick layer of dark gravel which works as a base for the battle, murder and outdoor scenes but hampers anything indoors. It soaks up the sound, dampens the acoustics and gets everywhere. And if you are Lady Macbeth in her six inch heels it’s a potential hazard. The sound effects and sound scape music are often too loud and out of touch with the words as happens in the Porter’s ‘who’s-that-knocking’ scene when her words are eclipsed by the irritating high decibel banging.
The Macbeths entertain
Those points aside director Adele Thomas’ production is filled with action as the drama races along at pace interspersed with some of Shakespeare’s most famous poetry and speeches. Katy Stephens as Lady Macbeth was wonderfully unhinged and was clearly the driving force in the relationship although the chemistry with a slightly stiff Macbeth (Jonathan McGuiness) was uneven at times despite her passion. Banquo (Aaron Anthony) was suitably heroic while Joseph Tweedale as Macduff had the right amount of honour and confusion as he wrestles with the unsettling conflicts sown by the actions of the Macbeths.
Action: Jonathan McGuinness and Aaron Anthony
Having children cast within the play accentuates the horror of the murder of Macduff’s son and wife (Maggie Bain) as well as the brutality of Banquo’s death as young Fleance escapes. Praise be for the young actors: Lila Howe, Polly Leach, Benjamin Pleat and Thea Underwood. Praise also for the fight scenes and in particular the battle between Macbeth and his nemesis Macduff choreographed by Kevin McCurdy. And more praise for the way the witches are portrayed with use of Gaelic, ghostly white gowns and the strange glowing white cube which crystalized their predictions and the final destruction of Macbeth himself.
The Macbeths mix passion, violence and blood lust into a heady mixture of wild behaviour which all goes wrong
A blisteringly brutal, viscerally violent and refreshingly modernist production that should be seen by all students of English, drama and psychology – and indeed anyone interested in the state of the human mind.
A little ball of rice is at the centre of The Little Mochi Man as he travels across the mountains of Hokkaidoand somehow survives without being eaten.
The theatre company A Thousand Cranes (in association with artsdepot) are behind the drama for children aged three to seven.
The company describes the show in these terms: “It’s almost New Year and little Mochi Man, tired of being bullied because of his small size, decides to run away. Join him on his adventures as he travels from the snowy mountains of Hokkaido, to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, meeting many wondrous creatures and characters along the way, including The Gingerbread Man and a very fast bullet train.”
The company say they use origami puppets, animation and specially composed music as they introduce children to the country of Japan along with some of its culture. A Thousand Cranes was founded by director and writer Vicky Ireland and performer Kumiko Mendl in 2006.
The 50 minute show is on a national tour from January 28th to May 30th 2018 with venues that include: Watermans, Half Moon, artsdepot, the egg, Nuffield, Greenwich Theatre, The Cockpit, Cambridge Junction, The Courtyard,Hereford, Polka Theatre, Stratford Circus, The Civic Barnsley, Little Angel and Salisbury Playhouse.
A mochi is a ball of rice rather like a sweet cake and has a long tradition as a popular delicacy especially at New Year and is made from a short grain glutinous mochigome rice. Hence the name.
More details at athousandcranes.org.uk
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
Following a successful tour to schools and performances in the Dorfman Theatre earlier in 2017, in which nearly 5,000 students saw Macbeth, the production now begins a tour to a further 31 schools and colleges across Doncaster, London, Sunderland and Wakefield. Macbeth is adapted and directed for teenage audiences by Justin Audibert and the production is a bold contemporary retelling of one of Shakespeare’s darkest plays. Amid bloody rebellion and the deafening drums of war, Macbeth and his wife will stop at nothing to fulfil their ambition. Witchcraft, murder, treason and treachery are all at play in this murky world. The cast includes Nana Amoo-Gottfried, Shazia Nicholls, Gabby Wong, Stephanie Levi John, Adrian Richards, Tamara Camacho, Johndeep More and Kenton Thomas.
Speaking about the production director, Justin Audibert said: “Macbeth is a tale of ambition, dark magic, violence and love; the perfect combination for an audience of young adults. We have made our version as exciting and visceral as possible, a truly sensory experience.”
The tour will begin by visiting 15 schools in London, followed by a further 16 schools across Doncaster, Sunderland and Wakefiel.
Speaking about the schools tours the National Theatre’s Director of Learning, Alice King-Farlow said: “At the NT we believe that all young people should have the opportunity to take part in theatre and drama while at school and so I am delighted that we’re touring Justin’s contemporary 90 minute adaptation of Macbeth to schools across London and in the North of England this year as part of our new national partnership programme.”
The enterprise is backed by money from the Mohn Westlake Foundation, The Ingram Trust, the Archie Sherman Charitable Trust, the Behrens Foundation, and Jill and David Leuw, while the National Theatre recieves financial support from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Macbeth is on the core reading guide for school exams this year.
See our round up of plays and novels that are part of core reading studies in GCSE and A level courses this year that are being staged across the country at http://www.harrymottram.co.uk/?p=2767
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.