The National Theatre
On the South Bank of the Thames, in London, the National Theatre presents up to 25 new shows a year on its stages. There are three theatres, a learning centre, theatre tours, restaurants, a riverside bar and a bookshop.
Our productions also play in the West End and on tour. We broadcast to cinemas worldwide through National Theatre Live, stream plays free to UK schools, and produce a wealth of digital content about theatre.
The Star Seekers - The Wardrobe Ensemble - 18th June, 2018
10,9,8,7,6… My 4 year old has been a bit obsessed with space recently, singing ‘Zoom zoom zoom, we’re going to the moon’ like she means it, so it was a timely pleasure to take her along to The Star Seekers, created by Bristol company, The Wardrobe Ensemble. Taking our seats (or comfy mats at the front for children) we were met with the awesome sight of a large space ship, lights blinking, electronics quietly bleeping. Plenty of questions ensued (is there a toilet in the spaceship Mummy?) but before I could answer, we were quickly joined by Alph, a hugely friendly, chatty astronaut and his wonderful co-star voyagers, Betty and Gammo. The plot quickly unfolded with an invitation to join the trio on an intergalactic mission to find three glowing orbs that would save Earth! Would we became Star seekers too?
5,4,3,2,1 wheee!! The show is very interactive and fast paced from BLAST OFF, with my wriggly 4 year old loving the dancing and joining in happily with her fellow star seeker children. Packed with supremely funky songs and movement led by the engaging and enthusiastic cast, the show rattles along like a rocket. A particular highlight for us was the ‘Solar system drive through’ song repeating the names of the planets as they were bounced out or gracefully orbited into the audience’s hands. Alph’s ‘Discovery song’ had us all in fits of laughter as he warbled, Flight of the Conchords-esquely about his space calling.
The breathtakingly inventive improvisational skills of the cast carried us through our space journey, often to wildly funny ends. We loved how conversational the show was, building up all the twists and turns of the story and its various planetary landscapes from suggestions from the audience. We envisioned a large gas planet, peopled with floating statues and flying birds into which we propelled a grumpy alien made of rock. The good humour was universal with plenty of jokes for parents and carers to appreciate too. The audience, ahem, especially my child… took particular glee in collecting and pelting Alph with space rocks during a joyously anarchic asteroid shower.
Too soon, mission accomplished, we were on our way back down to Earth. There were enthusiastic high fives all round on landing and our unique space odyssey had come to an end.
Sometimes with children’s theatre the interaction can feel somewhat forced or awkward but this show glows with genuine warmth from the three actors and their ability to really listen and respond to each of the children in front of them. This led to a real feeling of safety and a shared experience among the audience which is sometimes tricky to achieve especially in physical theatre and it’s a credit to the cast that this rapport developed so quickly and with such interstellar results.
Seriously, it’s so good, my daughter was desperate to follow the cast out of the theatre so she could hang out with her new space friends a bit more. We have had the CD of catchy, singalong songs playing non-stop since. I think we’ll have to book another Star Seekers mission very soon!
Photos by Ellie Kurtz
Daniel and Roseanna
The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare - 20th February, 2018
The Winter's Tale by William Shakespeare - in a new version for young audiences by Justin Audibert and the company
At The National Theatre
Suitable for ages 8 - 12
Press Viewing - 15/2/18
A Review by Daniel, aged 12, and Roseanna Pickles, aged 10.
"Very good overall, with a nice mix of singing and Shakespeare" - Daniel's summary
This outing to see the latest Shakespearean adaptation for kids was going to be a half term treat for the kids and I. But I was struck down with the dreaded flu, and my wonderful mother in law stepped in to the breach.
The children were tasked with reviewing the show and my son, in particular, took this to heart, spending the entire hour making notes and doing drawings to aid his memory.
Staged in the newly named Dorfman Theatre (previously the Cottesloe Theatre), this version of The Winter's Tale is set in the round, with a square stage in the middle, and seating right the way round. Daniel pointed out that (like The Globe Theatre) this meant that actors would always have their backs to some members of the audience.
The first misconception the kids had was that all the actors 'might be wearing animal suits' - this assumption made from the poster, which shows Perdita wearing a bear costume. 'They're not', noted Daniel. In fact, they never even saw the famous bear, but only heard it.
The children agreed that the first part of the play, when King Leontes ratchets up his paranoid suspicions about his wife, Hermione and his friend Polixenes, was well-acted and very clear. Daniel wrote that both actors, 'are very convincing in their extreme emotions.' They also thought that telling the story from the point of view of Maximillian (Perdita's dead older brother) was a clever trope and worked well. Perdita was controlling him as a puppet.
In a powerful scene, when Hermione and her poor son Maximillian die from grief, the cast performed a symbolic dance, chanting, 'Drop, drop, drop etc.' as two of the men carry the dead mother and son away.
The raw emotion and drama of the first half seemed to be countered by the jollity and light-heartedness of the second half, when the children found the silly sheep - Gina to be especially hilarious.
The final scene, when all the characters forgive each other and are reunited provides a pleasing sense of redemption and happy endings to the play. This scene is cleverly done underneath a blue cloth, representing the sea. The scene when Hermione comes back as a statue was also very well done, and Roseanna in particular watched her like a hawk, and didn't see the actress move a single muscle.
In the final scene the Prince of Bohemia and Perdita 'hold hands and heart-shaped confetti falls down' bringing the show to a close with a flourish.
They all agreed that the minimum age suggested for this show was about right. 8 year olds would probably be the youngest who would understand the themes of jealousy and redemption, as well as be stout enough for the scary bear bit. However, my son (12) felt that even those as old as 14-years-old could still enjoy this show.
Roseanna's take on it was somewhat more succinct. 'It was good', she said.
My impression from the children, was that this is a well-pitched show. The play itself has some very grown up themes (jealousy, adultery, death and so on) and these were not shyed away from or softened. However, the jollity of the pastoral scenes in the second half act as light relief, and the joy of the reunions at the end reminds the audience that, with forgiveness, all families can come together in the end, even after the hugest arguments!
My son gave the show 4 and a half stars out of 5 - so take your tweenagers and get them into Shakespeare from an early age!
Pinocchio at The National Theatre - 18th December, 2017
Review by Claire and Amelia (11) Paye, 15/12/2017
With its themes of child exploitation, bullying and species-crossing murder, it’s a wonder that Pinocchio was ever seen as a children’s story. This performance from the National Theatre, with Disney Theatrical Productions, doesn’t play down any of the horror of the story. In fact, an ominous sense of foreboding runs throughout, partly due to the use of gigantic puppets for and by some of the main characters.
It is billed as being for ‘brave 8 year olds +’. To check this I interviewed some of the under 8s at the performance at the interval. They weren’t particularly enthusiastic and said it was ‘creepy’. One parent said she felt it was ‘very dark’. Not really one for the young kids then. However, it’s a fascinating performance which is visually very striking (not just because of the gigantic puppets but also because of the stark and effective set design, not something I usually notice but Amelia and I visited an exhibition on set design at the National before the performance so we were primed). It is very deep as well as dark, raising questions of what it means to be fully human and even providing the answer…no spoilers here.
The play did have its lighter, humourous moments. Pinocchio, played by Joe Idsir-Roberts, brought a sense of wonder and excitement to all his experiences, and Jiminy Cricket, played by Audery Brisson, lightened up every scene she was in. However, our favourite character was the Fox (David Langham) who was the definition of wily, and who reminded me of Marc Almond with his heavy eye make up (rather than because of his bushy tail). I knew he was a baddy but I rejoiced each time he came on stage with his word play and tortuous yet persuasive arguments worthy of the most ‘wily’ politician.
Amelia wasn’t entirely enthralled by the play. She had her reservations about those gigantic puppets and she found the first half a bit heavy going. She preferred the second half as the pace moved along more. And there were fewer gigantic puppets. I think she is a bit young for it, even at 11, as she wasn’t particularly fussed about reflecting on what makes us human and the dark undertones probably made her a bit uneasy. However, she did love the special effects.
The National Theatre’s production of Pinocchio is fantastically imaginative. It is a ridiculously tricky story to bring to life what with the being eaten by a whale etc. It was clearly produced by some extremely clever people, to the extent that with even my degree in literature and ability to deconstruct with the best of them, I had the sense that I was slightly missing something and that there was symbolism in everything which was somewhat passing me by. The visual effects were occasionally astonishing, not surprising given that the Illusions Director previously worked on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I particularly enjoyed the live orchestra which accompanied the many songs familiar from the Disney film.
That said, someone else mentioned (it’s a great show to analyse with your previously unknown neighbour) that they loved the Disney film and found the show not similar enough. Not having seen the film, just having read the book of the film to my children, I didn’t really have any preconceptions, which helped.
In summary: Go with your teenager, there is masses to discuss from the staging to the content of the show. Don’t expect a reproduction of the Disney film. That said, the play does follow the story closely without modernisation. For me, Pleasure Island for children these days wouldn’t be a place where they smoke and drink. Rather, it would be somewhere they would all be sitting round on their screens all day with no one to tell them to turn them off with pizza, chocolate and crisps on tap. And no fruit. Or vegetables. Go expecting to be entertained and challenged to think about the meaning of life. And moved. I was surprised to find myself in tears at the end. Go. But don’t take your primary school aged children. Or toddlers.
Claire Paye and Charlie (8)
Peter Pan at the Oliver Theatre - London - 3rd March, 2017
Peter Pan at the Oliver Theatre - London
Review by Charlie (8) and Claire Paye