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I expect younger siblings eventually get used to their raw deal. Too often, their first experience of ‘the stage’ is either having to be quiet during their elders’ and betters’ boring plays, or being on the receiving end of a crash- bang-wallop entertainment of the cheerfully coloured variety.
Well, things are changing, as Laurent llupont, Director of TAM Teatrornusica, proves in Archipelago. It sounds like the perfect hands-on introduction to theatre for the very young. llupont starts off very quietly, and soon raesrnerises his audience, aged anywhere between ten months and three years. Then, once his make- believe magic has them spellbound, he involves them in the unfolding action. light years away from ‘Oh no he didn’t’, this is ‘audience participation’ of the subtlest kind, where elements of music and movement only add to that instinctive sense of drama which children already use in creative play: all they need is a strong imagination and a will to believe.
Pre-schoolers’ riotous narcissism and changeable sense of self-esteem ls'the sublect of Pop-lip Theatre’s Feeling Fine. Described by “The Times’ literary Supplement as a show ‘bnrsting with gentle messages’, it doesn’t sacrifice style, entertainment or drama on the altar of didacticism, bnt Inst whines along in a fast- moving, innovative blur of action.
Don’t forget to allow plenty of time to explore that haven for parents and toddlers alike, the Five And Under Village. There, the precious darlings can walk inside a 50ft inflatable whale, wander through the wondrous colour maze (pyschologists would have a field day in here), dive into a dragon-ball pond or drain away any rernalning energy in the bouncing ralnforest. You’ll probably feel exhausted )ust watching them. (Gabe Stewart)
:— Primary sources
Gabe Stewart sees what the Children’s Festival has in store for pre—school, primary and secondary school children.
Poor old children’s drama. Too often playswritten for children are categorised as pure ‘entertainment' or ‘education‘, in a way that no one would dream of applying to adult theatre. The preponderance of continental companies at the Festival means that children's cathartic theatre gets a look in. Our British, panto-based children's drama tends to tell children how they must respond, whereas the European tradition of children‘s theatre allows them a freer emotional rein.
This is apparent in three shows, from France, italy and Sweden, and in the Royal National Theatre‘s The Day After 'I‘omorrow. Their translation of the Dutch play keeps the seriously strange atmosphere of the original. The core relationship on stage, a thorny one between a bossy older sister and a stubborn younger sister, is real enough, but it exists in a bizarre, intriguing fantasy world, where they live in a huge armchair, and undergo a perilous journey to help their as-yet-unbom brother into existence. The multiple layers, and insistent weirdness, grab the attention of children and adults alike. The result is the sort of dramatic atmosphere one might expect in an adult theatre, as opposed to the crying. fidgeting and sweet-paper rustling we more commonly experience in our children’s playhouses.
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More odd-ball surrealism comes from French Turak Theatre‘s The Thea/re of Objects. There‘s precious little ‘issue- based‘ worthiness in a piece of theatre which eavesdrops on the secret life of domestic appliances. But neither are there any of the bright colours and loud music so many people continue to patronisineg assume children need. If their show is only half as bimrre as their faxes, then I can assure you it will be unlike anything you've ever seen before.
Don't go expecting Italian TAM Teatromusica's Robinson Crusoe to be ajolly adventure story either. Based on F riday and Other Islands. the play uses drums, xylophones and a giant pendulum to explore role reversals in master-servant relationships. Sounds heavy? Where are the happy tunes? Wait till you hear that there’s no dialogue.just music, movement and mime . . . Yet, Children’s Festival Administrator Vina ()berlander says 7—l l-year-olds are perfectly capable of ‘instantly knowing what's going on.‘ After all. they recognise similar emotions and power relationships all around them, in the playground. or at home. Sweden's Teater Pero's Orjan perhaps covers more familiar tenitory.
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Its exploration ofa dare-devil young eagle‘s fear of flying strikes chords all over the place.
‘The more unusual theatre companies are a chance for parents to experiment away from the usual Mr Boom.’ says Oberlander. ‘Children‘s regular theatre is often panto,‘ she continues. ‘What we feel we're here to do is to stretch them by bringing new exciting children‘s theatre.‘
That's not to say the home-grown children‘s theatre on offer is at all like panto. Scottish Visible Fictions‘ Peacemaker tells the story of the Reds and the Blues. always at war. and segregated by a wall as an answer to stop the lighting. One day, two children from opposite sides meet by accident. and learn to trust each other. Temporarily. they break down the wall. but it’s soon rebuilt. With the wall still in place. the play finally asks the audience, ‘Maybe you can tell how the story can go on‘?‘ Written in l982 at the time ofthe fall ofthe Berlin Wall, it deals with issues of discrimination and segregation. but gives no answers. A word of warning. be prepared for at least half an hour to discuss it afterwards.
See listings for performance limes.
Into double ﬁgures
Ask any twelve-year-olds what is the difference between pop and classical music, and I bet nine out of ten will say that classical’s boring. Moving Goalposts Jazz Orchestra’s The Wolf Bites Back goes one step beyond the familiar Peter And The Wolf introduction to classical music for children, by telling us the Wolf’s story, in )au. it amounts to a whole new story, introducing the instruments of the Big Band, and the differing styles of Ellington or loose Tubes. Other than discovering why ducks practise the trombone in secret, or what wolves
play on their Walkmans, the show aims to promote the ingenious idea that Gershwin, Take That and Prokofiev are all using their own versions of the same language, and children shouldn’t have to choose between pop and classics as though these musics lived on opposite sides of the tracks.
Ask any twelve-year-olds what is the difference between sniffing glue or gas, and I bet you ten out of ten parents will say my kid doesn’t do that sort of thing. In researching their multi-media show, dealing with solvent abuse, members of Catch Theatre Company tried to interview children involved in the practice, but were prevented from doing so by their parents. ‘Adults are having a hard time accepting their kids are on this stuff,’ says Caroline Potts, administrator for
the company. ‘They’d rather keep it quiet.’ Out of Your Face tells the story of three bored kids. Two of them persuade the other to inhale gas for a laugh, but after a wonderful high comes the inevitable low. Of course, the worst is yet to come, as a sticky end is in sight. ‘There was a death in Easterhouse while we were rehearsing there,’ says Potts. ‘Some kid thought he could fly while he was high. That obviously affected the perforrnance.’ Strong, believable characterisation is at the heart of making a wearin depressing story-line dramatic enough to bring you out in goosepimples.
Who actually goes to see the show’s world premiere at the Festival is another matter. ‘lots of school groups are going along,’ says Potts. ‘Parents might be avoiding the subject, but teachers are not.’ (Gabe Stewart)
74 The List 20 May—2 J une 1994