Friday, August 11, 2006

Little Red...You Know Who

Little Angel Theatre
show runs until Sun., 20, August 2006

Yesterday, Winston and I attended a production of “Little Red...You Know Who” at the Little Angel Theatre Company in Islington. London parents, do not miss this show! Okay, tix for adults are £7.50 and kiddie tix are a fiver, but I have not experienced “children’s theatre in this manner before. Maybe it is a reflection of my limited American cultural experiences - but - most kiddie shows scream, shout, jump up and down, race back and forth and generally annoy me. As if in order to have a good time, children must be beaten on the head with as many loud tricks as the company can imagine.

Not this show. Usually - when I want to describe a particularly moving theatrical experience I use words like:

technically precise,
attention given to the thiniest details,
impeccable showmanship,
demonstrates mastery of the genre.

Never - in my entire life - have I ever wanted to use these words in conjunction with a kiddie show. But, here I am.

Imagine me sitting in a darkened theatre with my 3 year old son. He is absolutely still. (Not in that “nasty children at the playground way.”) He is simultaneously at ease and on guard. His eyes are wide. His body is melting into my own. Every now and again, he looks up into my eyes with adoration, wonder, excitement and joy. Yet, he can not hold my gaze for long. (And we still gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes for over a 1/2 hour everyday when he has his afternoon nurse.) It is that look he gives me when we share the most soul stirring moments of our lives together. But, in this theatre - he is giving that look to another person. he is giving it to a man telling a tory with props and puppets.

The show does not attempt to trick him into thinking the “puppets are real. It is obvious that the “story man” is manipulating toys and props. This feels safe to him. Kind of like the way I tell stories to him at home - only so much better because this man has more energy and props than Mommy could ever cobble together. Not to mention - this man can create MOOD. He has a technical team who dims the lights, raise the lights, pulls up a spotlight on a specific area and delivers music and sound cues at the exact precise moment.

I don’t have much more time for this review. This show has created a demand in this household for even more organic storytelling. So, just a few highlights. 1. When Little Red set off for the forest, he quietly and with great focus added small wooden trees to the set. One by one, the forest “grew before our eyes.” So that when it was done, I found myself bursting into applause. (Like the rest of the audience.) 2. The Big Bad Wolf was so exquisitely rendered in a manner such that my timid 3 year old was entranced and yet not terrified. Basically, this actor (no, no programs for me to reference) donned a suit jacket, bow tie, fancy top hat and gold topped cane. He did a song and dance. He shook hands with (willing) kids in the first 2 rows. (Unwilling kids were positively reinforced by telling them that they were clever not to shake hands with a wolf. Willing kids were “daring.” A win-win for every participant. That is skilful. That is not mambi-pambi capitulation to overfeeding kids self-esteem. It was thoughtful and elegant and individualised 3. Every single prop, object and tiny “gag bit” was used meaningfully and consciously. This created narrative continuity and promoted ongoing focus amongst the children.

Okay - my young theatre goer is finished with a mother who wants to rant on and on about the value of this production and why she thinks everyone in the whole world should see this rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. So - adieu. And maybe we'll see you Saturday when we attend the 11:00 AM show. We could always discuss it afterwards - if you go.


Em said...

Ahh we go to our local theatre a reasonable amount, only to small productions and I've seen several productions that are just amazing, with a cast of only two or three, that draw the children in entirely. No loud bangs or crashes, no violence, no mania, just wonderful storytelling.

It always sadens me just how empty the theatre is when we go. Barely half full usually. How the actors make a living at it is amazing when the turn out is so poor.

Christina Springer said...

Yes, Em.

The theatre wasn't packed either. And I have to say - it is some of the best theatre I've seen in awhile. That saddens me - that more people were unable to avail themselves of this production. It was the exact reason I tried my best to 'review it.'

It even made me reflect upon my own work. I've written a neo-African ballet which is performed by Umoja African Arts Company in Pittsburgh, Pa. And even my own children's play had "bangs," "whistles," and "crashes." (In self-defence, I have to add that it is an African and Neo-African dance company - there will be bangs and crashes in those performances. )

But - the performance created an inner yearning for my artistic self. And more importantly - my son's first time at a theatre was an experience of awe and wonder. I treasure this - as it was these same experiences in my youth which brought forth a career that I love.

Indigo Gal said...

Hi, I would have loved to have seen this show, but we are considering going to see The 3 Billy Goats Gruff this weekend! Thanks for the review, at least I now know about this great theatre now. I have written and directed (and acted) children's theatre on and off for several years, though I've done nothing for awhile. My own "inner yearning" for my artistic self is begging me to go to plays again, to ignite a spark... So THANKS for the nudge!

I am American too! :)
Thanks! CJ

(PS, I saw your site while reading about the Mumsnet saga with Gina Ford, my arch enemy).

Christina Springer said...

Hey homie - Indigo gal,

I hope you made it out to three Billy Goats Gruff this weekend. I just blogged about it - we had a great time! It was lovely - even though it didn't have the perfection of Little Red.

And I agree - getting out there gets those creative juices rolling. i highly recommend it!