Tag Archives: family

The Good Neighbour – Battersea Arts Centre

On the weekend, I found myself back at the Battersea Arts Centre, surrounded by various adults and some very excitable children.  In December 2012, the BAC played host to The Good Neighbour and it was so successful that people begged them to put it on again in 2013.  So I went along to see what all the fuss was about.  George Neighbour is a young man who lives in BAC and has lost his memory (and is terrified of Christmas and all things Christmassy – and heights, and stairs, and windows…. and just about everything).  Aside from the name on his apron and meeting Queen Victoria, he knows nothing about himself; but he believes the clues to his identity all lie hidden in BAC, so it’s up to us to be ‘very brave’ and find them for him.

We are split into groups with a numbered sticker and assigned a guide to lead us through the building, with all groups taking a different route (although you run into each other quite frequently) and off we go on our theatrical adventure.  The whole format is rather more aimed at children than it is at adults, but is still good fun.  The kids around me threw themselves into the task with great enthusiasm and were absolutely enraptured with the whole concept.

We trailed up and down stairs and crawled through tunnels, searched for bits of paper with instructions and met various characters along the way, each with a small snippet of information which might help us recover George’s lost memory.  At one point, we even got to make lightbulbs in the basement (a line of D batteries, alligator clips, lead filaments and a glass jar) – an experiment that I haven’t done since secondary school!  In the main council chamber, there was a large map on the floor which kids and adults alike were encouraged to draw on with chalk with all the things they’d found out.

But there were also aspects which encouraged us to think about our own memories. One of my favourite rooms that we visited was home to character The Momentologist – he is surrounded by glass jars full of water, all representing the moments in people’s lives; there’s a great analogy here for adults and children alike in that everyone has a jar, but it’s up to you to fill it memories and it’s never too late to start.  He held up an empty jar to say one of the most profound things out of the whole show: “This lady’s jar is empty.  She won’t go outside in case something falls out of the sky and hits her on the head… and she won’t let herself fall in love in case her heart gets broken.” As we all walked out of the room, there was a great contrast between the uncontainable enthusiasm of the children and some very quietly reflective adults.

At the finale we all got to share our findings (my highlight of the evening was the child vividly telling us about “the… the funny lady! And she EXPLODED!!!”). Maybe its that I’ve been spoilt with other immersive theatre productions where you can wander wherever you like, but not everyone sees every room on their route (and if you come back, I’m not sure how you can guarantee being put on a route to see the rooms you missed last time). I for one would’ve liked to see the funny exploding lady.

George’s missing identity is revealed and it is with bittersweet amazement that we find out the truth about him.  There is a sad ending to the story, but it is told in such a way as to be life-affirming rather than upsetting – one hell of a challenge when some of the youngest in the audience were 6-year-olds.  And what a good, brave and kind Neighbour he was.

‘The Good Neighbour’ is on until Saturday 4th January 2014 at Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, London, SW11 5TN.  Suitable for ages 6 and up. For information and tickets, go to https://www.bac.org.uk/content/29759/see_whats_on/current_shows/tuck_in/the_good_neighbour


Robin Hood Panto – Stag Theatre, Sevenoaks

It’s December and panto season is definitely upon us, so I went to see Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood at the Stag Theatre for some festive fun.  This has all the expected traditional fare; man dressing up as woman – check. Girl dressing up as boy – check.  Goodies and baddies – check.  Singing and dancing – check.  But the script is a little unbalanced which presents a few challenges to this talented cast.

The highlight of any panto is the dame – and Robert Pearce is resplendent as Nurse Nellie in a series of increasingly ridiculous and cumbersome costumes.  He (she?) is complimented by Ant Payne as obligatory idiot Silly Billy Scarlet and they make a great double act; their scenes together are loaded with pace and the sort of inappropriate topical jokes which are part of any pantomime.  Andy Abraham (X Factor finalist 2005) is a cheerful and likeable Little John.

Full review continues here

Matilda The Musical (Cambridge Theatre)

matildaI’ll be honest; I walked out of the theatre at the end with a childish spring in my step and wanting to see the whole show all over again that very minute.  As soon as I got home, I was straight onto iTunes to download the album.  With its music and lyrics by Australian comedian Tim Minchin, a talented cast, great stage effects, 7 Olivier Awards in 2012 and a Broadway transfer, Matilda is THE musical to see in London.

Matilda was one of my favourite Roald Dahl books as a child; the story of an intelligent girl being brought up by grotesquely stupid parents and sent to a school with a terrifyingly hulkish headmistress, Miss Trunchbull.  It is only through Matilda’s escapism into stories and books at the local library with Mrs Phelps and the nurturing tuition of her teacher Miss Honey that she summons the courage to stand up to the awful adults in her life.

The show opens with the wonderfully precocious “My Mummy says I’m a miracle.  My Daddy says I’m his special little guy…”, a satisfying jibe at the stereotypical pushy parents obsessed with their perfect children – a song that has been stuck in my head almost ever since.  Other stand out songs include Naughty, Telly and the exceptional When I Grow Up which is all about children wanting to be old enough to do what they want, but cleverly written from the adult perspective remembering all the things they thought they’d be able to do as grown-ups.

The kids are fantastic – Matilda (Chloe Hawthorn) is brave and engaging – essential if the audience are to like you – with an irresistible subversiveness, outwitting the adults at every turn; her best friend Lavender (Ella Yard) comes across as a lovely girl with a hint of mischief and the alliteratively named Bruce Bogtrotter (Marcus May) who not only ‘devours’ a whole chocolate cake as a punishment, but also opens Revolting Children with the sort of notes that would give most R&B divas a run for their money.


Miss Trunchbull (David Leonard) is every bit as sinister and menacing as I’d hoped, with a very unsettling girlish giggle which thankfully doesn’t stray into pantomime dame territory.  Mr Wormwood (Steve Furst) makes a comically unscrupulous dodgy dealer and Mrs Wormwood (Annette McLaughlin) is unashamedly vain and self-obsessed.  At the opposite end of the scale, librarian Mrs Phelps (Melanie La Barrie) is adorably warm and helps to draw us into Matilda’s storytelling scenes and Miss Honey (understudy Lara Denning) who draws her own strength from Matilda and manages to be fragile without being a sympathy case – a very difficult thing to balance.

My only small niggle (and it really is small) is that I was surprised how little time was devoted to Matilda’s telekinetic abilities – I remember there being far more of it in the book.  But all in all, the best musical I’ve seen in a long time – an absolute treat for children and adults alike.  I’ll definitely be going back for more.

Matilda is at The Cambridge Theatre, Seven Dials, 32-34 Earlham Street, WC2H 9HU and is currently booking until May 2014.  The show is suitable for all ages but the theatre recommends it for children aged 6 and up (and adults wishing to indulge their inner child).


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Theatre Royal)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Wednesday 22nd May 2013charlie

 I’m very picky on my musicals.  I haven’t seen ‘Phantom’ or ‘Les Mis’ and as it’s unlikely that they’ll be closing any time soon, I don’t have the same sense of urgency to see them as I do with plays that get a 10-week run.  So it’s a rare thing indeed for me to book to see a brand new musical on its first preview night.  But I grew up reading books by Roald Dahl, so as soon as I got word of stage version of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, my inner child frogmarched me to the internet demanding that I booked tickets at once.

It is impossible to separate Roald Dahl stories from the accompanying illustrations by Quentin Blake.  So it brought a huge smile to my face to see the show open with a cartoon sequence all about chocolate, drawn by Blake himself.  Even though Dahl mostly wrote books for children, we can sometimes forget how dark these stories really are – but playwright David Grieg and director Sam Mendes have brought out the best of the morbidity and black humour.

We first meet cheerful urchin Charlie Bucket sifting through the rubbish dump looking for useful things to take home to his poor-but-happy family.  The ramshackle house is gloomy, but filled with the love and tentative optimism of Charlie’s parents and 4 bedridden elderly grandparents, the latter providing much of the black comedy e.g. in the song ‘A Letter From Charlie Bucket’ they softly sing: “Off to bed, counting sheep….hope we don’t die in our sleep”.  There was a small technical glitch (getting the beds lined up again on the trapdoor) but I think this is forgivable on the first preview and will hopefully be ironed out in the coming weeks before the show officially opens.

There is a dose of bitter realism in the story; Charlie gets a Wonka bar for his birthday – but there is no golden ticket.  This provides great contrast to the introductions of the 4 children who win the first 4 golden tickets – the gluttonous Augustus Gloop, precocious Veruca Salt, gum-chewing diva Violet Beauregarde and joystick-happy Mike Teavee – all great caricatures and all instantly dislikeable.  But Charlie gets his golden ticket, so he and Grandpa Joe (Nigel Planer) set off to Willy Wonka’s Factory.

charlie 1

Under the colourful, gregarious exterior of Willy Wonka (Douglas Hodge) there is something that hovers on the border between mischievous and sinister, almost dangerous.  Wonka, the 5 children and their adult chaperones weave through the factory, with Augustus, Violet, Veruca and Mike meeting their sticky ends.  This is greatly theatrical and the way they create the Oompa Loompas is truly inspired – it’s a technique I’ve seen used before, but it requires 3 C’s: Coordination, Cooperation and Concentration.  I am in awe of anyone who can do it well!

I was quite surprised at how much of Act 1 is spent in the Bucket household rather than at the Factory.  The show is none the worse for it, but I think most people in the audience were expecting to skim through that aspect of the story and get straight to the chocolate.  But you have to finish your dinner before you can have dessert and it’s worth the wait.  The vast majority of this musical is a brand new score – it’s very difficult to tell whether any of them will become classics in their own right when you’ve only heard them once, but stand-out numbers include ‘Don’t Ya Pinch Me, Charlie’ and ‘It Must Be Believed to be Seen’.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but I think you can make an educated guess at which classic song has been included.

The cast are excellent, but the biggest credit must go to the young actor playing Charlie Bucket – the role demands a lot of stage time and lines, plus getting the audience on your side without them feeling sorry for you.  I only wish my programme had included a slip of paper to say which of the 4 boys was playing him!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is currently open for preview, but officially opens on Tuesday 25th June 2013

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Catherine Street, LONDON, WC2B 5JF