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).
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.
There’s a sense of wonder as you enter the room at the top of the egg Theatre in Bath. Dimly lit there sits a studious young man in his pyjamas sitting and writing in an eye shaped snow scape that runs the length of the space with a triangular white tent at one end. Around the scene the audience take their seats or simply sit on the floor in touching distance of the snow while above hang large three dimensional stars. A magical soundscape fills the room before the lights dim and a strange drama takes place which initially takes some unravelling to understand.
Once you’ve grasped the sun is Sula Levitt as she bursts out of the tent to tease and taunt the moon played by Yves Morris in his studious and serious night attire it all makes sense. The moon makes sure the sun doesn’t get too carried away and is sent to bed at night while he takes over the duty of caring for the globe representing the earth kept in a box which periodically cries like a baby. There is much playful action between the two characters before the sky is lit up by the northern lights which spark an elaborately folded and illuminated map of the stars below.
Devised by members of the theatre company the multisensory drama which features no dialogue is inspired by Inuit folklore and the Northern Lights. Aurora features movement, facial expressions, mime and playful action aimed at connecting with children and their imaginations. In general it works for the 40 minutes with only some children losing interest which in a way was the only issue. For children of two and three to be transfixed continually there needed to be a little more action and a more understandable narrative to engage them. Directed by John East Aurora’s main strength is its production values of light (Ziggy Jacobs Wyburn) and sound (Dinah Mullen) along with the joyful performance of the duo of Sun and Moon.
The audience was most attentive when they engaged with them directly and when Sun teased Moon. Sudden changes of mood through sound and light or the presentation of a glowing globe or other prop also grabbed attention. Playing, teasing, partying, expressing, explaining, touching and sharing were expressed with a soft touch by Levitt and Morris in a production full of wonder but in need of more content and narrative.
An egg Christmas show devised by members of the company, 12 of whom are part of the Theatre Royal Bath Theatre School
Reviewed on December 19, 2017. Continues to January 7th, 2018, for ages 0-4
Duckie bursts into the world in Travelling Light and the Tobacco Factory Theatre’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography
The Ugly Duckling. At The Tobacco Factory, Bristol
Flowing from one scene to another the narrative structure of Sally Cookson’s The Ugly Duckling directed by Craig Edwards is like a discarded swan’s feather: sleek, smooth and beautifully constructed.
Brrr! The cast appear in Travelling Light’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography
Emily May Smith as Duckie bursts out of her shell into a world in which she doesn’t fit, save for the undying love of Mother Duck played with waddling wonderfulness by the be-hatted and non celeripedean Heather Williams who sings: “You are beautiful, I’ll tell you again and again.” Then there are her brothers and sisters as well as various farm animals who insult, ignore and reject Duckie as a member of the pond side community. Bullied and confused she sets out on a journey of self-discovery. Hans Christian Anderson’s 19th century story of social exclusion and of being an individual in a regulated world connects with us all in that universal feeling of wishing to be included. Duckie is confused when she is shunned by her peers and cries: “I don’t belong here.” In the hands of Travelling Light the moral fable reminds us all to be ourselves, that everyone is of value and will eventually have the confidence if nurtured to leave the bosom of our mother’s downy love and take flight into the world.
The versatile Heidi Niemi in Travelling Light’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography
The audience that included lots of pre school and infant school children were engrossed in the 45 minute epic. Their eyes followed every agony of Duckie as she is lost in the spooky reeds of the marshes, the frosts of winter or the deceiving world of an old woman’s graocracy. Brian Hargreaves’ music coupled with the singing of the ensemble cast that included the delightfully versatile Heidi Niemi was simple yet complex with Michelle Gaskell’s slick choreography and easy to follow and understand words in the bitter-sweet coming of age tale. So much energy, so much movement and so much humour. And I’ve not even mentioned the delightful underwater scene or the flight of swans with their white umbrellas: all perfectly brilliant.
Emily May Smith as Duckie sets out to discover herself in Travelling Light’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography
Add to that Matt Graham’s lighting and Jason Barnes’ sound and the whole show came into sharp focus in the theatre in the round setting of the Tobacco Factory. An outstanding production using the minimum of props and the minimum of costumes, but the maximum of acting, movement and song at its aquatic and feathered best.
Reviewed by Harry Mottram
A Travelling Light and Tobacco Factory Theatre co-production
Playing at The Tobacco Factory Theatre until January 14th, 2018
Emily May Smith as Duckie in Travelling Light’s The Ugly Duckling. Mark Dawson Photography