The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jul 21, 2008


On Saturday, I took my little boy to a show at Wimbledon's Polka Theatre. This is a cheerful place, filled with kids and toys, and serving up interesting little treats for all ages. In view of the notoriously short attention spans of toddlers, they limit the length of programmes to 40 minutes. Brilliant, which we went to see, was just a bit over this length, and I got a bit restive myself. Still, the kids all loved it.

brilliant It started in the dark with the actress in her night-gown looking out at various things and announcing that she could see them all. The enumeration took a couple of minutes (the Universe, the cars, the treetops, the stag in her hand, and so on), and the kids got quite bored. Not a good beginning, I thought, as a trickle of sweat ran down my back. Any moment now, I feared, the boy would assail the stage and grab every prop at hand. Then the enumeration proceeded in reverse when the actress realised that all those objects - the Universe, the cars, the treetops, and the stag in her hand - could see her as well. She switched the lights on and off. Stars appeared. A vaguely Hindustani classical air was played on a double-bass. The actress pranced around, playing with the lights. She pretended to be a kid about to go to sleep, nervous about the dark. Finally she settled down on her pillow, snuggling her little stag. The stage went dark and the kids looked about in slight anxiety.

The ushers at the theatre had arranged all the tykes on a carpet before the stage, and asked the parents to sit on benches behind. The proximity to the stage lent an immediacy to the proceedings, and a sort of immersive experience. Of course, the problem with that was that intrepid little chaps such as the boy then took it upon themselves to lean onto the stage to get a better look at the goings-on, and one of the ushers had to spend quite a bit of her time coaxing the children to sit back down.

The stag vanished and the curtains parted, and an enormous moon rose in the background. This was when the children got truly entranced with the show. "The Moon," whispered one kid. "She's touching it!" yelled the boy when the actress reached out for it. A forest of lights rose from the floor. The music - played by a man with antlers on his head - rose and shimmered about. The actress ran around amongst the lights, casting shadows and giggling. The children giggled along with her. A smoke machine pumped fumes into the room now filled with shadows and bright lights. Shiny spheres descended from the ceiling reflecting polychrome lights in all directions. The curtains closed and reopened, and now the actress held a moon in her hands. It kept trying to get away, but she maintained a firm grip on it. Then she brought it to the front of the stage and allowed the kids to touch it. Many pleasurable oohs and aahs ensued.

This was the first play that the boy's attended, and he came out looking quite satisfied, although he was more interested in the hobby-horses in the lounge than in picking up a phosphorescent moon from the ushers. When he saw that there were kids on the horses already, he decided that he would much prefer a ride on a double-decker bus. Which is what we did.

All in all, a good time was had by all.

[A company called Fevered Sleep produced this show. It's a dozen years old and specialises in installation-based and visual theatre, aimed mainly at kids. ]


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