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."


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

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.


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,, by phone, 020 8174 0090, or from the Box Office


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

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.

Monday 27 November 2017

The Hunting of the Snark

The Rose Theatre has been host to some fabulous children's programming this season. Over half term we were treated to a performance of the scrumptiously quirky Hunting of the Snark, based on Lewis Carroll's poem.

It's a tricky poem to share with children as it is long and rather complex, but it is packed full of weird and wonderful creatures and delightfully nonsensical activities that speak so perfectly to the imagination of the child. This theatrical adaptation brought the poem to life in a memorable way, unlocking the world of Carroll's quirkier imaginings visually - resulting in repeated readings of The Jabberwocky and even sections of the Snark itself in the days that have followed.

Retaining the essential elements, but ensuring that the play was as coherent and appealing to a young audience as possible, The Hunting of the Snark production follows the story of a young boy and his sad relationship with his money-obsessed Father. When it is broadcast on television that a Snark has been sighted in the wild by a group of holiday-makers, the greedy banker seizes the opportunity to make some further cash and gathers experts, staff and hires a boat to capture the fantastical beast. His son, determined to be a part of the expedition stows himself away on the ship, which is also home to a baker with amnesia, a knitting beaver and the world expert on Snarks. Also on board is a vicious butcher, who wants nothing more than to put the elusive beast in her cooking pot. The mission requires patience, and some rather left-field thinking; the Snark can't be found using conventional means. The group encounters the Jub Jub Bird and the frumious Bandersnatch. Ultimately the Snark seems within their grasp, but as the expert explains it is impossible to tell whether a Snark on sighting is either authentic and friendly, or the dangerous Boojum. If the latter, a mere touch will disappear you away. What a risk indeed!

Frivolous, but with an important message about what is really most important in life, the production also taps into Carroll's wider themes that imagination requires practice and nonsense can be exceedingly good for us.

“Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said. 'One can't believe impossible things.'
I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. There goes the shawl again!”

There's some great reading material available to accompany this production. For the littlest children the Babylit Jabberwocky by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver is a current favourite again. I've reviewed this clever series designed to introduce the classics from the cradle here. We've also been dipping into Chris Riddell's brilliantly illustrated The Hunting of the Snark, created to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the poem. And then of course there is Alice. We have a great Barnes and Noble volume containing Carroll's main works, and there are several wonderfully illustrated adaptations from Emma Chichester Clark and Usborne's picture book series and early reader versions. Finally we found Graham Oakley's imaginative sequel to the famous poem The Return of the Jabberwock.
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

The Hunting of the Snark is touring, next stop Sydney, and listings of the next set of family shows at the Rose Theatre Kingston is here. Over Christmas they will be showing Alice in Winterland. More on this soon...

Disclaimer: We received tickets to the Hunting of the Snark in exchange for an honest review. We also received copies of the Babylit and Alice in Wonderland Barnes and Noble edition. All other resources are our own.

Sunday 19 November 2017

BBC Music's Ten Pieces III Announced - and the full set of videos to watch

I've written before about Culturebaby's brilliant experience of the 2016 Ten Pieces II Prom at the Royal Albert Hall: There's nothing quite like seeing your daughter falling in love with music; magnificent, passionate music that paints pictures and pins a 4 year old to their seat, gripped and inspired, and leaves them reminiscing, singing and dancing for weeks.

The Ten Pieces initiative aims to open up the world of classical music to 7-14 year-olds across the UK and inspire them to develop their own creative responses to music. The initiative launched in 2014 and has so far reached over four million people. Ten Pieces II was aimed at early secondary school children, combining dance, animation and a plethora of musical offerings.  However it was pitched, it suited the pre-schooler just as well. Culturebaby has declared that she loves 'big' music. She watched open mouthed in the Albert Hall as the organ thundered out its Fugue and the enormous choir of children perform the epic Day of Judgement from Verdi's Requiem.

I was therefore delighted to hear that this academic year's Ten Pieces III has been announced this week, and even better, school children across the country were treated to a 'live lesson' inspired by the Royal Opera House's production of the Nutcracker last Monday. In partnership with the Royal Opera House and The Royal Ballet School, the 30-minute Live Lesson from BBC Learning was presented by CBBC’s Naomi Wilkinson and Karim Zeroual and live-streamed to schools nationwide. BBC Music and BBC Learning have also produced a continuing programme of activity for Ten Pieces III for this academic year. By the end of the project, students and teachers will have the basic tools to choreograph their own original dances to any piece of music. There is a wide range of free Ten Pieces resources available, including a set of short films which accompany the new repertoire and support students in their explorations of the pieces, and six-weeks’ worth of lesson plans devised for each piece. There's also a series of Ten Pieces Schools Concerts planned for 2018. The details are set out below.

I'm really excited that we have been invited to host the new Ten Pieces III teaching videos on our blog. There are some absolutely fantastic pieces in this year's line up from a journey through The Nutcracker to the thundering darkly emotive Orff's O Fortuna. In each video, the children are introduced to the piece, the composer, and context, as well as looking at the instruments used. They also examine certain parts of the piece and the feelings they might evoke. At just over 6 minutes each, these bite-sized videos are pitched really well. I can't wait to show them to the girls.

1.     Kerry Andrew No Place Like - Commission for a cappella voices

2.     Mason Bates Anthology of Fantastic Zoology – Sprite; A Bao A Qu

3.     Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges Symphony No. 1 in G major – Allegro (1st mvt) 

4.     Aaron Copland Rodeo – Hoe-Down 

5.     Antonín Dvořák Symphony No. 9 in E minor, 'From the New World’ – Largo (2nd mvt)

6.     Edward Elgar ‘Enigma’ Variations – Theme (‘Enigma’), variations 11, 6 & 7

7.     Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky The Nutcracker – Waltz of the Flowers; Russian Dance

8.     Carl Orff Carmina burana – ‘O fortuna’ 

9.     Henry Purcell Abdelazer – Rondeau

10.  Jean Sibelius Finlandia

BBC Ten Pieces 2018 Schools and Family Concerts

  • Wednesday 7 February: Ten Pieces Schools Concert - City Halls, Glasgow (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) • Thursday 8 February: Ten Pieces Schools Concert – Perth Concert Hall (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) • Sunday 11 February: Ten Pieces Family Concert – His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen (BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) • Tuesday 27 February: Ten Pieces Schools Concert – Watford Colosseum (BBC Concert Orchestra) • Wednesday 28 February: Ten Pieces Schools Concert – The Embassy Theatre, Skegness (BBC Concert Orchestra) • Saturday 3 March: Family Concert - Sir Thomas Picton School, Haverfordwest (BBC National Orchestra of Wales) • Sunday 18 March: Family Concert - Venue Cymru, Llandudno (BBC National Orchestra of Wales) • Sunday 13 May: Family Concert - St David’s Hall, Cardiff (BBC National Orchestra of Wales) • Tuesday 15 May: Ten Pieces Schools Concert - MediaCityUK, Salford (BBC Philharmonic) • Wednesday 16 May: Ten Pieces Schools Concert - MediaCityUK, Salford (BBC Philharmonic) • Saturday 26 May: Family Concert – The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (BBC Philharmonic)  • Thursday 21 June: Ten Pieces Schools Concert, Royal and Derngate, Northampton (BBC Symphony Orchestra) • Friday 22 June: Ten Pieces Schools Concert – Barbican, London (BBC Symphony Orchestra)

Booking details for the Ten Pieces School and Family Concerts will be available via the BBC Ten Pieces website shortly.

Friday 10 November 2017

Big Music for Little People: A Concert for Every Season

The girls have been lucky to attend some fabulous large-scale concerts over the last year. We love our small and intimate venues with their brilliant children's programming (see here for a selection of some wonderful regular ones) but there is something utterly awe-inspiring in the huge concerts with their booming organs or Wagnerian choruses, or the giant cinematic experiences with favoured films brought alive by an orchestra. As I've written before, there's nothing quite like seeing your daughters falling in love with music; magnificent, passionate music that paints pictures and pins a 4 year old to their seat, gripped and inspired, and leaves them reminiscing, singing and dancing for weeks. For me it was racing to safety behind a sofa as the stone door to the Hall of the Mountain King swung shut, beating an imagined hammer to the Anvil Chorus and dashing through the snow on a horse drawn sledge with Lt Kije to Prokoviev's Troika. For Culturebaby it has also been The Nutcracker and now the swift-winged Valkyries. I've been immensely grateful for the BBC's fabulous series Melody, which animates a piece of music for children in each episode, and Disney's Fantasia.
With the school year coming round swiftly again, keep an eye out for these utterly inspiring family experiences.


Autumn brings the Albert Hall's Great Orchestral Adventure, which ran again this half term. Due to an unmovable work meeting we had to miss it and so I was delighted to see that there will be another running in the Spring, this time with a space theme. Last year's performance was interactive, educational and engaging. Around 8000 young people and their families descended on the venue to help conductor Tim find his magic conducting baton. Using 11 classical masterpieces, the orchestra took us on an atmospheric journey through forests, mountains and to kingdoms under the sea. We even travelled into space to the Sanskrit echoes of Star Wars' Duel of the Fates. We encountered perils such as tricky mermaids, and the ferocious troll living in the Hall of the Mountain King (I still recall racing to safety behind a sofa as a child before the stone door to the Hall swung shut). The finale of the performance featured a full narrated performance of Michael Rosen classic We're Going on a Bear Hunt. The intention of these entertaining productions is to introduce even the youngest children to the orchestra and the idea of a concert, and they achieve this so effectively. We met the conductor and explored the various parts of the orchestra. To the audience's delight, we were invited to vote on the way our adventure might proceed: which way to go? Vote red or green. One particularly lucky young lady was invited to come and take the place of the conductor as he nipped away. We were given a glimpse of quite how tricky the experience of controlling an orchestra can be but what a glorious experience when it all comes together. The audience danced and sang and remained utterly enthralled. The accompanying activity book and programme was also very well designed, introducing the concept of how music can conjure up a plethora of emotions from happiness to fear and sadness; how a piece can conjure adventure or drag us from peril to calm safety in a matter of moments.

Listen again to the My Great Orchestral Adventure soundtrack
McKenzie Life’s a Happy Song
Rossini William Tell Overture
Grieg Asa’s Death, from Peer Gynt
Tchaikovsky Swan Lake
Grieg Hall of the Mountain King, from Peer Gynt
Mozart Dies Irae
Wagner Ride of the Valkyries
Williams Duel of the Fates
Stephen We’re Going On A Bear Hunt
Williams Flight to Neverland
Mahler Symphony no. 4


Then as the nights roll in and the carols begin, nothing says nearly Christmas like The Snowman. Over the last few years we have particularly loved the Amadeus Orchestra and Mozart Symphony Orchestra's family concerts at both Cadogan Hall and King's Place. I've written about these in more depth here and here (complete with follow on activity ideas). This winning formula featuring a double-bill of two of our most loved orchestral works in one sitting never fails to enchant.

Prokofiev's Peter and The Wolf is, without a doubt, the best classical piece I've found to demonstrate the power of musical storytelling without the aid of film. Written in 1936 by Prokofiev for the Moscow Theatre for Children, the work was intended to be, and was commissioned as, a guide to the instruments of the orchestra. 

Following the interval, the concert hall was transformed into a cinema and we were presented with the full film of the Snowman in cinematic scale, but with a live orchestra and a choirboy performing the classic Walking in the Air in the place of the soundtrack. As I wrote recently, a Christmas viewing of the Snowman is like a rite of passage, a ritual through which the joy of childhood is kept alive. Fully versed and note-perfect, surrounded by family and strangers alike, we re-enter annually this intimate tale of belief, living life to the full and dealing with loss. As far as cinematic experiences for children go, this is hard to beat. This fantastic series of Christmas concerts varies each year a little but retains many of its most magical components. They've since added an out of London concert in Cheltenham too.
Father Christmas and Peter and the Wolf
This year Cadogan Hall and the Mozart Symphony Orchestra are running a two day series with:

Wednesday 20 December 2017, 1.30pm and 4.30pm - The Snowman and Carnival of the Animals
with the Mozart Symphony Orchestra

Thursday 21 December 2017, 1.30pm and 4.30pm -Father Christmas and Peter and the Wolf

King's Place is running The Snowman and Carnival of the Animals
on Tuesday, 19 December 2017 at 1.30 and 4.30pm with the Amadeus Orchestra.


Every year spring sees the fantastic Imagine Children's Festival at the Southbank Centre. This brilliant two week festival for kids, run by kids offers everything from immersive theatre to storytelling, dancing, art and experimentation with instruments. I'm going to write about this event in more depth shortly in the run up to this Spring's event, but a huge highlight from last year's programme was a cinematic showing of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom with full orchestral accompaniment. Frankly cinema will never be the same again. We particularly loved how the audience was taught about the detail of what they would be hearing in advance. We met the instruments that would create some of the signature noises of certain characters, and we were helped to look out for sounds and ways of creating them that we see in the films. The Southbank Centre also runs interactive Funharmonics concerts throughout the year. Recently we had the huge excitement of watching The Gruffalo's Child with the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Keep an eye on their events here. As we mentioned above, there will also be the next installation of the Great Orchestra Adventure at the Royal Albert Hall (see here).


Summer brings the BBC Proms, and as we have experienced, you can never be too young to feel involved in them. In Summer 2016 Culturebaby and I attended the amazing Ten Pieces II Prom; a fantastic celebration of a set of iconic classical pieces performed for and with school children. Building on 2015's huge 10 Pieces success, this year's Ten Pieces II was aimed at early secondary school children, combining dance, animation and a plethora of musical offerings.  However it was pitched, it suited the pre-schooler just as well and Culturebaby was completely bowled over from the moment the huge organ began with Bach's (slightly unnerving) Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. She watched open mouthed the organ thundering out its Fugue, and the enormous choir of children performing the epic Day of Judgement from Verdi's Requiem. However, since the concert it is the Ride of the Valkyries that has been requested over and over again, even a year on, by both children. (You can read my full review here).

Combined with the thunderously joyful CBeebies Prom towards the end of the summer, we couldn't have hoped for a better introduction to the Proms for the girls. Hugely accessible, and perhaps appealling to a much wider demographic than the Proms might traditionally expect, the CBeebies Prom was hosted by and featured a gaggle of presenters and characters from the BBC channel. Drummers moved through the audience and Clangers took a turn at conducting.
 Along with Andy Day, Mr Bloom, Swashbuckling Pirates and other familiar household names for children everywhere, the young audience was taken on an adventure through space and time, weaving storytelling through a selection of classical favourites. We encountered (of course) dinosaurs and met Will Shakespeare. Short and hugely accessible the whole experience was an excellent idea - we were even treated to the bagpipes. It was, however, the Proms Extra in the nearby Imprerial College Union that provided the icing on this theatrical cake and turned the whole event into an immersive family day out. The children had the opportunity to meet Clangers and Muppets, create home-made musical instruments, do craft activities and best of all, take part in a dance class for all the family. If this perfomance features again in this year's Proms programme I'd thoroughly recommend it to even the youngest of toddlers.

In no way do I exaggerate when I call these concert experiences life changing. They exist for long periods in little memories and conversations and provide no end of play ideas, and although we have already glimpsed their creative legacy, I have no doubt that their ultimate impact will be enduring.

Disclamer: We received tickets to each of the performances for the purposes of review. The photographs for the Great Orchestral adventure were courtesy of the Albert Hall and the CBeebies Proms photographs were courtesy of the BBC and Guy Levy (copyright).
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