Monday, 19 February 2018

The Saga of Noggin the Nog


We never cease to be impressed by the quality of children's programming at Kingston's Rose Theatre. Celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year, this fabulous, cosy and high quality theatre has provided some real gems in recent months. From West end touring productions to Saturday morning puppetry, we'd recommend a trip for all families. Spring sees a programme including Dahl's George's Marvellous Medicine and The Railway Children and What the Ladybird Heard at the end of May.                                      

Our most recent visit was to a production of the vintage children's classic, The Saga of Noggin the Nog. My mum remembers enjoying these comic characters as a child - the first episode of the British TV series aired in 1959. The loveable characters, inspired by the Lewis Chessmen at the British Museum, are 'Northmen' loosely based on Vikings, with Noggin ruling benevolently, and sometimes competently, as their king. There are however, many fantastical additions - dragons, talking birds, and miniature beings. 

Lewis Chessmen from Wiki Commons © Andrew Dunn
'In the Lands of the North where the black rocks stand guard against the cold sea, the Men of the Northlands sit around their great log fires and they tell a tale...'

 
The production covers two of these adventures. Firstly the attempted theft of Noggin's crown by his wicked Uncle Nogbad the Bad whilst Noggin is off getting married in a far away land.  Then a journey to the land of miniature people and a battle with the 'fearsome' ice dragon.


With an all male cast, the actors were hugely versatile, with imaginative costumes and great puppetry. The production was simple but funny and effective, and you certainly don't need to be acquainted with Noggin to thoroughly enjoy this performance. We weren't previously but we've since bought the DVD. It's also a great way in to discussing the real Vikings.

Jorvik Viking Centre from Wiki Commons
As a child I loved trips across to York, to the Castle Museum and also the immersive sights, sounds, smells, animatronics and all important moving car at the wonderful Jorvik Viking Centre. The museum is housed in the basement of a shopping centre as it remains on the site where a settlement was found. Its a great example of how rescue archaeology and creative thinking about the future of a site can boost tourism and education. Visitors can journey 6 metres underground to discover the remains of a Viking hearth and walls that made up the historic city. I haven't visited since their refurbishment following a devastating flood, but I can't wait to take the girls. Visits there certainly planted a seed for my future choice of reading archaeology at university. Museum Crush has also compiled a great list of museums around Britain where you can learn more about the Vikings - see here.


The Saga of Noggin the Nog is touring and information can be accessed on their Facebook Page.
Rose Theatre Upcoming Shows can be booked here.

Disclaimer: We received tickets to the show in exchange for an honest review. All views are our own. Images of the production used are courtesy of The Rose Theatre. Other images are from WikiCommons.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

You Can Never Run Out Of Love

Already the girls at 4 and 6 are coming home from school with Valentines cards, thankfully addressed to Mummy and Daddy. Their view of the whole event is that it is a day for showing people how much we love them. In many ways that would be much nicer than the exclusive emphasis we currently place on the day for couples. Last year I wrote a post with activities and a selection of books about love for little people and there have been such gorgeous publications on the theme over the last few months that a sequel is certainly in order. For the very young, here's our Valentine's sensory basket too. You can find out what scrumptiously tactile materials to throw into the mix here.


You Can Never Run Out of Love by Helen Docherty and Ali Pye

This lovely book has been read and re-read in our household. Both girls love the rhythmic text, the sweet illustrations and the message, that whatever you run out of from food to energy, to socks, from time and money to patience and ideas - you can never run out of love. "Love doesn't come in a bottle or jar. It's right there inside you, wherever you are. You don't have to charge it. No batteries inside. Your love can be big, as the whole world is wide..." At the crux of the book is the central message that love grows when it is given. When you've run out of everything else, you'll still find... you can never run out of love. Long may our girls believe this.



Words and Your Heart by Kate Jane Neal

Sometimes a title drops through the post that in its own original way gets a message so right that you have to shout about it. This is one of those books. Words and Your Heart is a little book about the amazing power of words, to harm or to build others up. Our words are powerful, they are important, because the words that go into our ears can really affect our hearts too. Just as the words of others can make us happy or want to sing (or make us cry), our words can also pierce someone else's heart - the little bit of them that makes them, them. Our words are so powerful that they can change the way someone's heart feels - our words can make someone who feels weak, feel stronger. The book exorts us to choose to use our words to look after the hearts of others. It's a really important message for school children - teachers have even reported a change in the culture of their classroom after sharing it with their students. It's just as crucial for us as parents. This is one of those books I'll buy for others, and I have a copy to send to school.


How to Say I Love You in Five Languages by Kenard Pack

This cute interactive primer arrived this week, alongside a counting version, and the girls have been busy experimenting with it. With buttons to press, we are taught how to say "I love you" in English, French, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin. The girls' school does French and Mandarin from reception so they have particularly enjoyed hearing these and looking at the simple phrases such as "You are my friend". Noisy books are always fun and this title from Wide Eyed Editions lives up to their usual high quality quirky standards.


The Poesy Ring, A Love Story by Bob Graham

When we were married, we both selected Georgian rings. Men's rings of this age are tricky to find as many have been melted down. Ours perhaps survived because of its inscription on the inside 'Love Ever'. It's a Poesy ring - these were given at engagement or marriage and often had inscriptions like ours on the inside. This tale is therefore particularly apt as it traces a journey to the present day of a ring carrying the phrase 'love never dies'. The book begins with a ship sailing away onto the horizon and a teary rider galloping away. A ring is discarded, tumbling into a meadow and settling there with only animals for company for season after season. In time it was found by a boy and placed in his pocket with an acorn, then again it is lost: the acorn becomes a magnificent tree - the ring its hidden neighbour. As the seasons continue to turn the ring becomes wedged in a deer's hoof, is ploughed through soil, carried by birds and dropped into the sea. Eventually found in the belly of a fish, it is finally sold, to be bought by a couple in need of an engagement ring. It's a happy ending for the ring - it finally fulfils its purpose. Love is always there, Bob Graham tells us, it just needs to be found.

Oskar and Mo by Britta Teckentrup

Last year I wrote about Britta Teckentrup's adorable creation Oskar. Her stunning illustrations and lyrical language and description have ensured that these gorgeous books will be future classics. From the the smell of spring to sweet red cherries, losing himself in books to the silence of snow, Oskar gives us a glimpse into the simple beauty and pleasures in life. Now Oskar returns and he has a best friend Mo. "Oskar loves Mo, and Mo loves Oskar. They are the best of friends." From their favourite place where they share all their secrets, to activities they love to share together, their friendship ensures that the night doesn't seem so dark, the rain so bleak. Even though at times they disagree, they always make up. This is simple and perfect friendship, and the book itself is a work of art.

The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones

The Snow Lion is a beautifully illustrated story about making new friends and growing in confidence. Caro and her mum move to a new house, and Caro wishes she has someone to play with. Then one day, she hears a deep gentle voice suggesting a game of hide and seek. The voice belongs to a snow-white lion, invisible against the white walls of the home, who becomes both playmate but also quiet encourager - suggesting that Caro ventures out and plays with other children - he will always be there when she returns. As her world becomes more and more filled with colour, her first playmate recedes, but as he reminds her, he will always still be there if she needs him. She knows where to look...


The Unexpected Love Story of Alfred Fiddleduckling by Timothy Basil Ering

This unusual little book, somehow rather classic looking in its execution but original in the story it tells, talks of the power of falling in love with your passions in life, and in particular with music. Captain Alfred was sailing home with his dog, ducks for his farm and an egg- a precious gift for his wife. Then a storm comes and the boat is wrecked, and floating offshore in a violin case the egg cracks and Alfred Fiddleduckling emerges alone. The first real companion he sees floating by is the violin and Alfred takes hold of it and embraces it with all his heart. In return the object responds with the most beautiful sound he ever heard. They drift wave after wave through the fog, until they land safe ashore. It is this unlikely love story that leads the others, following the exquisite and familiar music, home too at last. It's a joyful tale about finding your gift.



Odd Couples. One Word Two Meanings by Mirja Winkelmann

Finally an unusual Valentines title from quirky art publisher Prestel. This mainly wordless book brings together unusual pairings of images, united by the one word that describes them. Words such as bark, ring, crane, tank, fly or sole are depicted in their odd couplings. It's a great book for getting little ones to think differently. Perfect for propping up on the breakfast table and discussing.


Disclaimer: We received copies of the books over the last few months for the purposes of a review. I only write about the books that I love. There are all fabulous.


Monday, 29 January 2018

The Owl and The Pussycat Went to Sea...

In October, we headed over to the Lilian Baylis Sudio at Sadlers Wells for a perfectly pitched little production of The Owl and the Pussycat. Designed by Let's All Dance, and performed in an intimate space, it was as if a pair of ballet dancers had come to dance just for us in our own front room.

With thanks to the brilliant album, Funkey Rhymes (see here), the girls have grown up with a really catchy composition that has put Lear's famous poem to music, so they know it very well. The ballet featured just two dancers - an owl, who entered the studio from the back introducing himself to the excited audience, and the sophisticated and rather more aloof cat, with her stunning white tutu.

As we all know, this unlikely pair sailed off for a year and a day in a pea-green boat, persuading pigs to part with prized posessions and turkeys to become ministers. The year on the boat was perhaps less of an issue for owl, who could always stretch his wings, but the cat must have been rather impatient for the sight of land, and a long promised wedding. The dancers brought the iconic poem to life so well with selected props, engaging the audience (and even begging for the ring until they spotted the pig...) At the end every child was invited to have their picture taken with the characters in the pea green boat. It was a perfect length and beautifully created.


Some of the most effective productions are also those that tap into things children already love, and offer the possibility of follow-on activities and books to read. We have various versions of the Owl and the Pussycat, but favourites include two recently published celebrations of Lear's most famous couple. First comes a stunningly illustrated gift version of the original, with drawings by Charlotte Voake and a foreword by Julia Donaldson, then an original sequel from Julia Donaldson, herself a devotee of Lear and his talent for nonsense poetry. Lear originally wrote the illustrated poem for the poorly three year old daughter of a friend, and it is perfect for this age. Charlotte Voake's illustrations are simple yet dynamic. They convey movement, lightheartedness and a splash of childhood joy. I love how they look like watercolours and you can see some of the brushstrokes - a great inspiration for budding artists to emulate. Donaldson's sequel The Further Adventures of the Owl and The Pussy-Cat is also illustrated by Voake, and with Donaldson's seemingly effortless genius with rhyme, the tale continues in seamless form with the honeymoon of the unlikely couple. Following the loss of their wedding ring, the two are thrust on new adventures where they meet many others of Lear's colourful creations - The Pobble who has no toes, the Chankly Bore, even the Jumblies. It's brilliant. A wonderful gift for any child (the sequel even comes with a CD of Donaldson narrating the poem).

My very clever and arty friend Natasha, who came to see the show with us also produced a stunning pair of felted animals. These are apparently rather easy to make with wool. She'll be guest posting some instructions soon so watch this space... 
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

II
Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
   But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
             His nose,
             His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.

III
"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
 

You can follow Let's All Dance on their website here: https://www.lets-all-dance.co.uk/watch/ The Princess and The Frog will be performed in February, followed by The Magic Word in May. We received tickets to the performance in exchange for a review and the books mentioned featured in a previous post and were kindly provided by Puffin Books. Photographs Courtesy of Let's All Dance.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Sounds of the Southbank

The Southbank Centre feels rather like a playground for my little ones. We've been to some lovely events that the girls associate with the venue, from family concerts to the superb Imagine Children's weekend in the spring, where the venue is taken over for a couple of weeks by kids with a programme designed entirely for the very young and offering everything from immersive theatre to storytelling, dancing, art and experimentation with instruments. During Imagine, open spaces are transformed - last Spring there was an interactive Narnia-inspired scheme complete with a home inside a wardrobe, a pirate ship with miniature sailors clambering up the rigging and various playhouses to explore. A perennial favourite fixture at the Festival Hall is also the musical lift with its chorus of voices rising and falling in pitch depending on the destination and floor you have selected. It's a task to extricate any toddler from such an enthralling experience.

This Autumn we attended two concerts designed for families, each very different. FUNharmonics is a regular (quarterly) series run by the London Philharmonic Orchestra for children over six (though I'd say these are equally effective for younger children). I've mentioned the series before as part of an article on big music for little people here. As Sarah Kirkup noted in a rave review of FUNharmonics for Gramophone, children, far from being forgiving of mediocrity are hugely discerning. She quotes Israeli-born American pianist Orli Shaham who discusses playing to a young audience ‘I play everything from Bach to music written last year... they accept everything equally so long as the pieces are wonderful and the performers have conviction’... As Sarah notes "‘Conviction’ is the key word here – and possessing it as a performer is even more important when playing for kids than for adults. If you don’t have it, they’ll see straight through you." It is wonderful to see performers put so much into performing for the very young and exuding a level of energy that shows they believe wholeheartedly in their mission. And rightly so, this is the audience of the future, and the shapers of societal taste far after the present orchestra have laid down their violins for the last time.


Following last year's Imagine Children's festival, where a huge highlight of the programme saw an orchestral cinematic showing of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom, the LSO followed up with a concert featuring The Gruffalo's Child. These concerts begin with art activities and the opportunity to handle instruments then, by stealth, a number of orchestral pieces are introduced to warm up the audience, including on this occasion the vibrant Slavonic Dances by Dvorak and three songs from Julia Donaldson's collection. The children were taught each piece, and various actions to go with them. We particularly loved Funny Face, an earworm that two months on still occasionally surfaces as the children break into a rousing chorus. It's a delight to see the shattered parents of London gurn quite so effectively on a Sunday morning. That's the joy of children's theatre and music; it keeps us grounded. It's incongruent not to be ridiculous along with your children, which in turn is rather good for the soul. High quality narrators at these events are also a must. Every group of the orchestra gets an introduction, we are shown their unique sounds and the parts they play in the upcoming pieces. Listening along to the soundtrack of The Gruffalo's Child we are encouraged to really hear what lies behind the moving image: which instrument produces which unique effect? As I've said previously, watching a full orchestral performance of a film is an electrifying experience and it positively ruins cinema forever - without an orchestra it begins to feel flat, you want more. Hand in hand with children's theatre, this sort of concert trains the ear to crave that immersive experience, and hopefully plant a seed for life.

The second concert we attended at the Royal Festival Hall was hotly anticipated as jazz is one of my favourite genres and the children really enjoy it too. Last year we'd been to an utterly brilliant concert by Albert's band at The Royal Albert Hall (see hereJazz for Kids - and introduction to New Orleans Jazz . The children were taught about the rhythms that give Jazz its distinctive sound, heard the history of a movement rooted in the opportunity presented by the wholesale abandonment of military instruments, met a sousaphone (a curly tuba for marching) and had the opportunity to dance and sing with abandon to the music. The Introduction to Jazz concert on this occasion, Is This Jazz? was a BBC Concert Orchestra production, which puts on such fabulous children's concerts as the CBeebies Prom, and leads on the inspiring 10 Pieces Project. The orchestra was also led by a woman, Holly Mathieson - important role modelling for the girls to see in a world where male conductors are the norm and it took 118 years for a woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms. It also featured a young choir, always great for future aspiration for any little audience member.

BBC Concert OrchestraOn this occasion an excellent idea led to a mixed experience - children's concerts don't always get it right. The first half was brilliant and well pitched, and I'd really encourage the orchestra to run an event like this again along these lines. Energetic narrator, Pete Letanka, took the family audience on an exciting journey through the various places Jazz can be found. Do we always recognise music as Jazz? There's so much to be found in film and TV as well as shops, clubs, and in the concert hall. We sought out the sneaky jazz hiding all around us, through learning about the rhythms and re-creating these as a audience. The energetic opening showcased a cornucopia of TV theme tunes, we were treated to the Mambo from Westside Story and Gershwin's Summertime, film hits from Toy Story and La La Land, favourites from Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie and then some pieces we wouldn't think of as jazz, such as Shostakovich. There was lots of interaction and engagement. Finally we were introduced to the idea of improvisation where our narrator, also a musician, demonstrated effectively what could be done with a tune as simple as twinkle twinkle. With the rousing coda of It Don't Mean a Thing, the concert should have been left at that. The section that didn't work so well as a world premier of an improvisation piece. We wanted to love it, but it was long, failed to be gripping enough and led to much shuffling and even early exits from the families in the audience. It took some energy for those remaining to rouse themselves to join in at the ending. Even mistakes like this however lead to good discussion. Why do we like certain pieces, what pictures do they paint in our minds, why do other pieces fail to inspire us? Why do some lines stick in our heads and others fail to linger? The kids love jazz and we are grateful for those orchestras that experiment and showcase a variety of genres for a young audience.

FUNharmonics concerts from the London Symphony Orchestra are a regular feature at the Royal Festival Hall. Keep an eye on their events here. You can see the BBC Concert Orchestra's forthcoming concerts here, including upcoming events such as a live orchestral screening of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. An upcoming blog with explore last year's Imagine Children's Festival in a little more detail and give you a taste of what to expect this year.

Disclaimer: We received tickets to the events in exchange for an honest review. As always all views are our own.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Alice in Winterland


On Saturday we returned to our local theatre to see a wintery interpretation of how Lewis Carroll's Alice would deal with falling into a land of winter, ruled by a despotic Red Queen and her deck of playing cards. Combining elements of Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass and iconic poems such as The Jabberwocky, this creative concoction was thoroughly effective, gripping and rather emotional. As with much of Carroll's ingenious creations, the apparent nonsensical prose holds timeless wisdoms. The Rose Theatre's recent Hunting of the Snark, likewise, has had a surprising legacy with the girls.

Alice, brought up by loving parents, loses her mother during the war, and her father's mind to post traumatic stress. Formerly surrounded by joy and wisdom, she finds herself at the mercy of a joyless aunt who is set on her attending a finishing school. On receipt of the parting gift of her father's watch, Alice's fervent wish to halt time immediately leaves us at a permanent two minutes to four. A white rabbit appears, steals the watch and leaves her with no option but to follow him into Wonderland to retrieve her precious gift.

Encountering the most bizarre of characters - a talking rabbit, a smiling cat, a dodo in search of love and a waddle of penguins, she finds herself in a surreal game of chess. Characters who work to aid her quest, though fantastical, are strikingly reminiscent of family members (friend or foe). Realising the importance of friendship and love for even the most unsavoury of characters, Alice grows an army of the bonkers, the bizarre and the brave - a frumious bandersnatch, and a knight brandishing a vorpal sword, a mad hatter help the little pawn to ultimately defeat a queen. Because of course, with the right strategy, even the smallest and seemingly most insignificant of pieces, can become the greatest.

The production itself, as Culturedad noted, was akin to something you would expect to see in the West end. The digital effects were brilliant - with Alice growing to the size of the theatre, or flying on the back of enormous puppets. The Jaberwocky managed to be huge and ferocious and the surprising coda - which I shall not reveal in this review  - brought tears to my eyes as I witnessed the unbridled wonder and joy on the faces of the girls. They declared it absolutely brilliant, one of the very best performances they've seen (and we see a lot of theatre). It captured their imaginations to the extent that the very next morning Culturetot charged into our room brandishing her vorpal sword ready to slay the ferocious Jabberdaddy. There was not only a great set of professional actors, but also a host of youth actors who did a sterling job. A thoroughly scumpiferous frumabulous production. Go and see it.


Culturebaby's verdict (6): "I liked when Alice grows tall when she ate the tart, because the background was an amazing giant screen. The Queen's voice was funny. The show was very clever because the claws of the Jabberwocky seemed real. Alice learned she could be a hero and she didn't have to leave with her Aunty - she was strong, and she learned that she has to look after friends, and they will help her too. The frumious bandersnatch was actually friendly. He helped Alice."

Culturetot's Verdict (4): "I would have liked to have played the red queen, I liked her voice. I liked Alice because she ate the tart and it was funny. The doormouse was cute - I liked the song they sang when they were having tea. Alice learned to be a White Queen - she was strong and saved her friends. I liked the caterpillar - he told the tale of the Jabberwocky."

A Q&A WITH SUSANNAH VAN DEN BERG ‘QUEEN OF HEARTS’

What made you keen to join the cast of Alice in Winterland?

I’ve seen a few Christmas productions at The Rose, as well as being involved in several community scratch choirs. I have always been impressed with the production values and the commitment and energy of the youth theatre. I was also excited about tackling a brand new script and original score, being involved in creating something new and fresh.

What is Alice in Winterland about?

The setting of the original books has been changed to during the First World War. Using elements and characters from the two books it’s essentially a coming of age story for Alice. Through her adventures in Wonderland she gains the strength and courage to deal with the trauma and responsibilities of reality.

Tell us a bit about your character. What are you most enjoying about playing The Queen of Hearts?

The Queen of Hearts is a delicious megalomaniac, rather like a modern day dictator. I’m finding her such fun to play because she has no limits. I have the ability to be as silly or outrageous as I like because my court allows me to get away with anything. Like anyone in great power, the chance of being overthrown is always present so I’ve chosen to rule by fear.

What particular challenges does this role present to you as an actor?

Vocally it’s a big role - lots of shouting “Off With Their Heads” - so sustaining that will be a big task. Delivering a pretty spectacular battle scene whilst wearing a massive dress is also going to be challenging!

Alice in Winterland, is based on Lewis Carroll’s timeless books, Alice Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Why do you think these characters have such an enduring appeal?

They’re magnifications of human nature - all elements we recognise in ourselves taken to huge proportions. They’re all things we could become.

The production sees a professional cast and a youth company perform together. What has it been like working alongside Rose Youth Company?

Really fantastic. They have such great energy and focus that could shame some other professional companies! Working with two separate casts is a joy as a performer as you get different performances to play off, meaning no show will be the same. The company really works as a true ensemble, they are generous to each other and there are no small parts. Slotting into a company like this is incredibly exciting.

Why do you think people should come and see Alice in Winterland?

The story is incredible and the families who come to see it will go on a real journey with Alice. There’s puppets, magic, monsters, a new script with an electrifying original score, some terrible jokes, beautiful costumes & scenery and snow... there’s definitely snow. Entertaining yet life affirming.

Image result for alice in winterland
A Q&A WITH BILLY RILOT ‘TWEEDLEDUM’

What made you keen to join the cast of Alice in Winterland?

I was lucky enough to be in the cast last year and enjoyed it so much I decided to audition for Alice in Winterland. Last year’s production was the best few months of my life, I made a lot of great new friends that will last a lifetime.

What is Alice in Winterland about?

Alice in Winterland is about friendship, bravery and family.

Tell us a bit about your character. What are you most enjoying about playing Tweedledum?

My character is Tweedledum, he is loving fool, who is not too bright and is devoted to his twin sister even though they squabble. I enjoy playing Tweedledum because I get to do lots of clown work (including fixed points, accents and playfulness).

What particular challenges does this role present to you as an actor?

As Tweedledum I have to do an accent, which I have never done before on stage. It gives the show more realism and it really brings it to life.

Alice in Winterland, is based on Lewis Carroll’s timeless books, Alice Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Why do you think these characters have such an enduring appeal?

I think the characters have such an appeal because the journey of Alice is so brave, how she goes from being a lost girl to being the brave hero and saviour of wonderland.

The production sees a professional cast and a youth company perform together. What has it been like working alongside professional actors?

It has been such an eye-opening experience for me, learning from them and working with them, the pros are also extremely nice people.

Why do you think people should come and see Alice in Winterland?

I think people should see Alice and Winterland because it is a story that all ages can understand and appreciate …there are villains, heroes, animals, talking playing cards, monsters – it’s scary, funny, sad and exciting.




A Q&A WITH REN WALSINGHAM ‘DORMOUSE’

What made you keen to join the cast of Alice in Winterland?

I love acting and when I saw that Alice In Winterland was on I was so happy I went to the auditions.

What is Alice in Winterland about?

Alice in Winterland is about a young girl who has lost her family and one day gets sucked into the mad world of Winterland.

Tell us a bit about your character. What are you most enjoying about playing the Dormouse?

My character is a fun character, a bit cheeky and knows everything!

What particular challenges does this role present to you as an actor?

The physicality of a realistic mouse.

Alice in Winterland, is based on Lewis Carroll’s timeless books, Alice Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Why do you think these characters have such an enduring appeal?

The story is relevant of anytime we live in.

The production sees a professional cast and a youth company perform together. What has it been like working alongside professional actors?

Amazing, I have learnt so much!

Why do you think people should come and see Alice in Winterland?


It’s a great family show with a twist on a classic.
 


Alice In Winterland will be at Rose Theatre Kingston from Thu 7 Dec – Sun 7 Jan. Tickets cost from £15 and are available online, rosetheatrekingston.org, by phone, 020 8174 0090, or from the Box Office

Listings

Fri 22 Dec 11am, 5.30pm
Sat 23 Dec 11am, 5.30pm
Sun 24 Dec 11am, 4pm
Tue 26 Dec 1.30pm, 6pm
Wed 27 Dec 11am, 5.30pm Thu 28 Dec 11am, 5.30pm
Fri 29 Dec 11am, 5.30pm
Sat 30 Dec 11am, 5.30pm
Sun 31 Dec 11am, 5.30pm
Tue 2 Jan 11am, 5.30pm
Thu 4 Jan 1.30pm (relaxed performance), 6.30pm
Fri 5 Jan 6.30pm
Sat 6 Jan 11am, 5.30pm
Sun 7 Jan 11am, 5.30pm (signed performance)

Twitter: @Rosetheatre
Facebook: /RoseTheatreKingston
Instagram: RoseTheatreKingston

Box Office: 020 8174 0090
Monday – Saturday: 10am – 8pm (6pm non-performance days)
Sun: one hour before the performance

Disclaimer: We received tickets to the performance for the purposes of review, as always views are all entirely our own. Photographs courtesy of the Rose Theatre Press Office.

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Walking in the Air (for twenty years)... The Snowman at Sadlers Wells

This Christmas for the 20th Year running, and our third, the Birmingham Repertory Theatre's magical production of the Snowman has returned, again triumphant, to London's West End.

There is little in life to surpass the child-like anticipation of Christmas and this year with a combination of six and four year olds who are both head over heels in love with the magic but old enough to partake fully in every thing the season has to offer to the wide-eyed youngster, I can't imagine it getting better than this.

We went to see The Snowman as it opened, right at the end of November, something to be highly recommended as there is nothing that says 'Christmas is coming!' like a viewing of The Snowman. We emerged, enchanted as always, and ready to deck the halls, crack open the Rutter and throw our selves head-first into advent. Christmas for me, more than any other season, is the time for memories, for dreaming and re-gaining the wonder in life. The Snowman was Culturebaby's first ballet, and it has held us all, as Waugh would say, a 'finger's breadth from the turf' ever since.

The Snowman with its classical score is so distinctive and dynamic that it alone can paint pictures in the mind's eye. I was stunned that from three, Culturebaby was able to narrate what was happening in the story accurately from the music alone. And then there is the story itself, heartbreaking and instructive on so many levels. Ultimately it is a tale of belief, friendship, living life to the full and dealing with loss.

The production, which follows the broad format of the film, is particularly effective as a stage show because it captures the depth of emotion and wonder present in the story, but with an enormous injection of joy. Refusing to take itself too seriously, the ballet features dancing fruit, a jolly (if rather windy) Father Christmas, waltzing penguins and mischievious Jack Frost, determined to capture the hand of the Snowman's dainty dance partner. The sets are simple but effective - they even manage a motorbike on stage -  and of course the magical moment where the pair take flight is achieved with gasps of delight by the children. This year we particulary loved the scene with the toys, which come to life in James's (the boy's) bedroom. A dancing ballerina, a bear and a solider all join in the fun, as a toy train makes its way across the stage. Likewise the Snowman's ball is musically and visually gorgeous. I've said before that one of the most brilliant elements of this performance is that it also contains a small boy, only a few years older than the host of children wishing themselves in his shoes. What wonderful inspiration for any tiny dreamer! Every year the girls also harbour a fascination with the unnerving but gymnastic Jack Frost. One year on, it was the first thing 4 year old Culturetot mentioned as she glanced at the posters on arrival at the theatre. It's sometimes astounding what can stick in the memories of even the littlest of theatre-goers.

Its a testament to a great family production that The Snowman is able to hold an audience of the very young captivated throughout, rising only to join the boy as he dances in the snow falling from the ceiling at the end, with its optimistic implication that our eponymous hero could return. That is, of course, the crucial promise of the coda of this piece; that even before the advent of a sequel it never really seemed possible that this was truly the end. The hopefulness of a fresh fall of snow is the perfect ending to a magical performance.

Over the years we've had so much fun with the Snowman that we've now accumulated a list of specifically themed activities to accompany the show and provide some creative inspiration. These work for a wide range of children's ages.
 1. Snowman and Snowdog Christmas Cookies 

These simple Christmassy smelling and tasting biscuits are based on an extremely simple recipe. A golden syrup, ginger and cinnamon combination worked really well for the season.


Sift together 350g plain flour, 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

Add 2tsp ground ginger and 1 tsp ground cinnamon

Add 125g butter and blend until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in 175g soft brown sugar.

Lightly beat an egg and 4tsp golden syrup together, add to mixture and blend until the mixture clumps together. Knead until smooth, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes or so whilst you preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/Gas Mark 4 and line baking trays with greaseproof paper.
 Roll the dough out to around 0.5cm on a lightly floured surface. Create shapes using the cutters.
Place on baking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes. Leave to cool for 10 minutes. 
 
We then varied the recipe to suit tiny hands using roll-out icing to cover each biscuit (also using the cutters) and tubes of food colouring gel for decoration.  
2. Running a Snowman on the Shelf Advent

Lots of parents arrange an advent activity called  Elf on The Shelf, where a cheeky little helper is sent by Santa to keep an eye on the household and consequently gets into mishaps along the way. This isn't something we have ever done, but one year we decided that our large cuddly snowman might enjoy some elf-like antics. Given that he is the ideal companion for a child throughout this festive season, and he already loves exploring the house (and gets into a few scrapes along the way), he was the perfect messenger from the North Pole for us: our very own Snowman on the Shelf.




3. Create a Snowman Themed Christmas Play Basket

Somewhere between two and four the girls particularly loved a series of small-world Montessori-inspired play baskets I made for them, though they still indulge daily in imaginative play. If you have a child who loves sensory play and small objects I'd highly recommend making these simple dreamscapes for them to explore. The Snowdog joined our already much-loved little Snowman in the basket alongside a tree for Culturebaby to dress with miniature decorations.The floor of the basket was scattered with items that can be collected, matched and counted such as wooden and felt snowflakes, stars, reindeer, small presents, miniature musical instruments and bells.

4. Explore the Story through Art and Modeling

Between 2 and 3, little ones are beginning to draw with clear intention and increasing ability. Using playdoh is another way to foster this interest, and three years ago we tried modelling the characters from the Snowman, and watching others do so - as well as 'melting' (squashing) the snowman afterwards. Creating the scene of the house from playdoh and acting out certain parts of the book was really effective.

5. Imaginative Play and Storytelling with Characters


This activity was revived a couple of years on the run. The first year, we created a snowy landscape with a large white towel and, listening to the audio soundtrack, used one of Culturebaby's play cottages and characters, with her toy snowman, to act out parts of the story. The second year, we set up a sheet of faux snow material and included the scenes with the dance of the snowmen, when Father Christmas gives James the gift of the scarf and the final morning. The girls have reached the stage where they happily act out stories together. I may resurrect the materials to see how they use them.



 
 
6. First science experiments - Three years ago we took a few ice cubes and let them melt in a bowl at room temperature. We talked about what was happening and why - and of course why the Snowman had started to melt when he sat too close to the fireplace. Practical activities like this have also helped the girls understand and discuss differences in temperature.










The Snowman is currently on at The Peacock Theatre, WC2A 2HT from Thursday 23 November - Sunday 31 December 2017
Performances: 11am, 2.30pm & 7pm. Times vary on selected dates. See website for full schedule.
Tickets: £15 - £36
Family Ticket: £115 (four tickets including at least one child)

Ticket Office: 020 7863 8222 or www.peacocktheatre.com

The Production will also be touring as follows:

The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton (10-14 January), Milton Keynes Theatre (17-20 January) and Theatre Royal, Brighton (24-28 January).


Disclaimer: We received tickets to The Snowman in exchange for an honest review. We return to The Snowman annually - its a joy and a tradition. Long may the magic last. Images Courtesy of Sadlers Wells Press Office.
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