Tag Archives: theatre for kids

A little late, but I’ve never been good with figures: Numberjacks review, Royal & Derngate, Northampton

IF you’ve seen the Numberjacks TV programme on Cbeebies, you’ll already know it’s more odd than even.

What with computer generated talking numbers alongside human baddies, including a creepy bloke in a white top hat and frockcoat called the Numbertaker, yes, very odd indeed.

So imagine this transferred to a live stage show at Northampton’s vast 1,400 seater theatre – with fewer than 50 in the audience.

If you were going expecting a ‘like the TV show’ experience you’d have been disappointed, as well as £10+ per ticket poorer.

The only ‘real’ Numberjacks appeared on a giant TV screen well into the show. Numbers 1 and 4 staggered about as tatty foam shapes with legs, and watching a human ‘Number 3’ emerge from her parked foam ‘body’ was surreal, too much like that scene from ‘V’ and altogether a little disturbing. Almost as disturbing as the actress’s high-pitched shrieking.

The two main characters, a cleaner called Jamie (think CBBC’s Barney’s scruffier cousin) and waitress Astra (a younger, brunette version of Amanda Holden) managed to somehow string out a plot and interact panto-like with the audience.

For all its weirdness, Bonnie, who loves the TV show, and her fellow pre-schoolers were gripped throughout. Bonnie sat on my knee whenever the Numbertaker came on stage and has been talking about him as some kind of generic bogeyman everytime she wants to get out of doing something ever since: “I can’t, the Numbertaker will get me” kind of thing.

I don’t think it’s Royal & Derngate’s fault, but the production people of this touring show need to have a good long think about whether this should have been booked for such a huge space.

If they’d sold tickets at say, £3 a head to local nurseries and reception classes, and filled the Royal stalls, I think they’d have a larger number of children enjoying a theatre trip and a better atmosphere in which to show that both theatre, and  numbers, can be fun. If a little weird. . .

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Review – The Gruffalo’s Child, Royal and Derngate

A MUM took a stroll to the deep dark theatre – accompanied by a three-year-old and an 11-year-old (the seven-year-old was tucked up in bed ill and the 13-year-old decided he’s rather be ‘daan taan’ with his mates).

Copyright Macmillan Children’s Books

There was much excitement about the stage show of the children’s book, the Gruffalo’s Child, the sequel to the hugely popular Gruffalo which saw a mouse outwit a big hairy monster. The Gruffalo and the Gruffalo’s Child are repeatedly requested at bedtime in our house and we know the words off by heart.

We’d actually attempted to see the original Gruffalo on stage at a festival last summer and had given up due to the huge crowds. The best place to see theatre of this kind is definitely in a small theatre.

The Gruffalo’s Child sees the eponymous heroine sneaking away from Dad into the deep dark wood to find if the Big Bad Mouse really does exist.
The show at Northampton’s Royal & Derngate was really very good, exactly as children’s storytelling should be, but I think the weather and the Royal Wedding may have had an effect on ticket sales as it was far from full. Surprising for such a popular book and well-thought-out production.

Not necessarily the cast we saw, but the only pictures available. Oh and they are Copyright Geraint Lewis

The script sticks fairly close to the original story but to duplicate it would make it considerably shorter than an hour (I can whip through a bedtime story in about four minutes), so there’s additional dialogue and songs.

The cast of three were excellent, particularly Yvette Clutterbuck as the G’s child, who bounds around the stage like a demented Kathy Burke in Perry the Teenager mode, getting the laughs, the bravado and the vulnerability just right. It’s a very physical piece of theatre, and she must have been boiling in her costume, purple prickles and all.

Our 11-year wasn’t sure if the Narrator/Mouse was actually meant to be the Mouse, as he said her costume wasn’t ‘right’, but she drove the pace of the  show along well.

The Gruffalo Dad was immobile due to the constraints of the costume on set, and Bonnie wanted to see him stomp about. We were confused by the Snake, who didn’t seem in the slightest bit snake-like. Half the fun of the snake is the alliterative dialogue of his ‘s’ sounds. This snake was portrayed as Bruno from Strictly Come Dancing. Eh?

Copyright Geraint Lewis

 However, The Owl and the Fox were marvellous, and the song and dance routines between the three actors went down a storm. Perhaps surprisingly, our 11-year-old was more captivated than his three-year-old sister. She was just too fidgety when the dialogue strayed too far from what she knew. She did, however, literally dance in the aisles, and both kids loved the use of ‘Stick Man,’ who we’d never really noticed in the book.

Oh, and after the merchandise overload of Peppa Pig Live, I didn’t see any parental mugging at The Gruffallo’s Child, as I think Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the original authors, are quite strict about it.
We did get a ‘Souvenir Postergramme’, with a picture on one side and the cast info on the other, which I thought was a great idea.

The Gruffalo’s Child is certainly worth seeing if in your area. It’s a loving re-creation of the book and has an intelligence about it which is sadly lacking in many other ‘branded’ productions aimed at the under-tens. Getting theatre right for this age group is essential for the future of live performance.

The show is still touring at the following venues:

May 2011
 Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishops Stortford
07-08 The Capitol, Horsham
11-12 Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells
13-14 The Broadway Theatre, Peterborough
17-19 The Courtyard Theatre, Hereford
20-21 North Wales Theatre, Llandudno
24-25 New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth
28-29 Dorking Halls, Dorking
31 West Yorkshire Playhouse (The Quarry Theatre), Leeds

June 2011
01-04 West Yorkshire Playhouse (The Quarry Theatre), Leeds
08-11 Theatre Royal, Plymouth
16-18 The Swan Theatre, Wycombe
19-20 Buxton Opera House
24-26 The Rose, Kingston
27-29 The Orchard, Dartford

July – 01-02 Yeovil Octagon

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