Monday 25 July 2016

Into the Night Garden...

Some things in life provide wonderful experiences because of their simple and arresting joy. In the Night Garden Live is an adorable production for the very young and rarely have I witnessed such unparalleled delight in little people as at the arrival of these household names in larger than life form before their eyes.

In The Night Garden is one of those utterly bizarre, and probably genius, Cbeebies programmes that have captured the heart of a nation. At the slightest whisper of threat to children's programming, parents declare war in defence of Upsy Daisy the pacifier and Iggle Piggle the entertainer of their miniature brood. I'm not sure a few years ago that I could have imagined I'd be writing an article about this surreal toddler wonderland, but there too leapt I into the giant showdome, pre-schoolers in tow, and found myself surrounded by the Richmond parenthood chanting along in one voice to the unintelligible but gripping choruses of Makka Pakka, Akka Wakka, Mikka Makka moo! and Igglepiggle, wiggle, niggle, woo! 
I wonder what a future anthropologist falling upon some ancient footage might deduce from such scenes: who are these furry deities depicted on materials from dining equipment to painted bedroom walls, treasured in effigy and emitting strange and otherwordly chanting? But to the 2 year old, who sees true friends and companions in these colourful puppets, the whole phenomenon makes total sense.

There are two shows available this summer, each covering a simple tale. Let's be honest these are not (for the adult observer) complex and gripping tales of adventure. In ours Makka Pakka travels around the garden, introducing a range of his buddies and washing their faces. At one point he loses a sponge. The sponge is consequently recovered. There are bubbles. There is dancing. But the joy created in this showdome is utterly infectious. It was a thoroughly happy event, with audible expressions of delight throughout from young and old alike. It isn't cheap and inevitably is rather commercialised, but it is a great child-friendly performance and good option for a first experience of theatre designed entirely for and on a perfect wavelength for the very young.

My four year old, who in hindsight didn't consider herself too mature for the whole experience, was particularly taken with the sense of scale and use of various sized puppets to bring the Night Garden alive. A larger Makka Pakka emerged alongside the Pontipines, whilst a smaller puppet was used beside the enormous Iggle Piggle. There were glorious moments when Iggle Piggle's boat appears amongst the waves, when Upsy Daisy finally danced onto stage, and when projections of stars onto the ceiling made the whole experience multi-dimensional.

As I circled my toddler's palm with my finger as the show began and witnessed her childish awe at the familiar spectacle unfolding before her, the emotion associated with the brevity of this tiring but wonderful phase rather bowled me over. I found myself wanting Oliver-like to bottle the whole experience. For In the Night Garden - for better or for worse - seems to be a right of passage for today's toddler and now, as then, I recall the immortal words of Evelyn Waugh:

"I should like to bury something precious in every place that I have been happy, so that when I'm old and ugly and miserable, I could come back and dig it up, and remember."

 In the Night Garden Live runs annually and tickets can be booked at this site. The final leg of the 2016 tour opens soon in Manchester.

We received a family ticket in exchange for an honest review of the performance. As always all views are very much my own. Photographs courtesy of In the Night Garden Live.

Wednesday 13 July 2016

Sadlers Wells Family Day: Exquisite Snow White

Family Weekend balletLORENT Snow White 25 & 26 March © Ian WestWe love Sadlers Wells, with their creativity, brilliant performances and mission to inspire young people and involve families in their programming. Last year a friend attended their Miro-inspired Family Weekend. This year Culturebaby and I were delighted to be able to spend a big girl afternoon together at the simply exquisite production of Snow White from balletLorent and re-told by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy. Whilst some productions for children are technicolor and twee, this evocative production was refreshingly un-Disney. The colours were melow and the storyline was haunting and at times dark. This ballet by the award-winning BalletLorent was not for the feint hearted. There were tears in the loos from some quarters but Culturebaby never fails to surprise me with her capacity for challenging themes and she was hugely impressed by this interpretation - closer to the Grimm than the Disney - with a mother (not stepmother) who grew jealous of her daughter and a woodcutter groom not a prince. The former was food for thought that all mothers should protect and celebrate the beauty and youth of their innocent offspring and never unwittingly fall into jealousy or a desire to live through them. The latter was thoroughly welcome - a fairy tale encouraging women not to look for the rich and vain in their future mate - but the strong, courageous and good. Carol Ann Duffy captures this angle well when she says:
"I didn't expect to fall for the story of Snow White. Like so many of the Brothers Grimm fairytales, I felt that I vaguely knew a version of the story, and was most familiar with Disney's 1937 interpretation. It was only through my research that I found out that in the first published version it was Snow White's actual mother - not her stepmother - who was so jealous of her offspring's beauty that it drove her to want to murder the daughter that she had so wished for. I was hooked; it suddenly became such an important story to tell. So many of us live with a complicated and unhappy relationship with our reflection in the mirror, and this fairytale warns us of the dangers of self-criticism, brilliantly looking at the cost of our beautifying and anti-ageing efforts."

BalletLorent's mission to create high quality dance for all ages is commendable. In this touring production, they have offered the opportunity for 12 children aged six to nine years to rehearse and perform with them. These lucky children receive professional training and an opportunity to perform as part of the troupe. We were hugely impressed by their contibution and, like many productions which feature children, to an audience aspiring to follow in their footsteps their roles offer a tangible next step for other aspiring miniature dancers. By opening up productions so effectively for families both in the audience and in the production itself, as Amy Reid, a teacher in a participating school notes: "It's great to be planting that seed now instead of later on. They are little enough for this to make a difference."

Sadlers Wells supplemented this fabulous ballet with a wider programme of creative and themed activities, available free before the production. Children were invited to explore costumes, make a magic mirror or crown, write on a wall of dreams and discover hidden leaves and objects through crayon rubbing on a giant mat. Of the many productions we have seen in recent years, this is one of those that has remained with both me and my daughter and is still talked about months on. The whole experience was welcoming and evocative. The costumes and props were simple in hue but stunning in design - Snow White's wedding dress fills the entire stage. The family weekend at Sadlers Wells comes round annually. We await their next instalment with baited breath...

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be very intelligent, read them more fairy tales." Albert Einstein

"The fairytale is in a perpetual state of becoming and alternation. To keep to one version or one translation alone is to put a robin readbreast in a cage." Philip Pullman

Disclaimer: We received review tickets in exchange for an honest review of the production. As always, all opinions are all entirely my own. Photographs of the performance itself are courtesy of Sadlers Wells and photographer Ian West
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...