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Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play My Father Odysseus was staged at The Unicorn in 2016

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play My Father Odysseus was staged at The Unicorn in 2016

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE COMMENT: Perni Morel and the Unicorn Theatre marked down by the The Stage in their 100 most influential theatre people – why?

 With The Stage publishing its 100 top theatre movers and shakers this month, Harry Mottram takes exception to the near invisibility of children’s theatre in the list

Andrew Lloyd Webber may have suggested last year that The Stage’s 100 Most Influential Theatre People was ‘hideously white’ (he’s number two this time) but he might also have said ‘hidiously only for grown ups.’ Compared to children’s theatre adult theatre is over represented in the industry’s leading publication with the 100 people chosen by the editorial staff of The Stage following nominations from 50 individuals in the business.

Purni Morell of the Unicorn Theatre

Purni Morell of the Unicorn Theatre

Producer Sonia Friedman who produced Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last year is placed at number one, but The Unicorn Theatre’s artistic director Perni Morell is downgraded on the list from 47 to 54.
This despite the staging of Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play My Father Odysseus to great acclaim and the Unicorn continuing to promote some of the most creative shows to be staged in 2016 in London.

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play My Father Odysseus was staged at The Unicorn in 2016

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play My Father Odysseus was staged at The Unicorn in 2016

Others listed in the 100 by The Stage included Jamie Hendry at 74 who brought the musical version of Wind in the Willows to the stage, director Marianne Elliott who was behind War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, and writer Jack Thorne who wrote the script for the Harry Potter play.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s Timothy Sheader (37) get a mention for the puppetry in Michael Morpurgo’s Running Wild, as does Thomas Schumacher for his work with Walt Disney Theatrical Productions that includes The Lion King and Aladdin.
There are other credits in the industry listing such as producer Micahel Harrison who put pantomime back on at the London Paladium, while the young Vic and RSC along with Shakespeare’s Globe are all mentioned in dispatches for their work with bringing the bard’s plays to the attention of A-level and GCSE students amongst wider audiences.

Tim Webb, Artistic Director Oily Cart

Tim Webb, Artistic Director Oily Cart

Ambassador’s pantomimes and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins are fine family shows but strictly speaking do not have school children only in mind for their titanic sized productions. Considering children make up around 20% of potential audiences the list makes for lean pickings.
So with this in mind Children’s Theatre Magazine will seek to compile a list of some of the key figures in children’s theatre in 2017. Clearly there are many obvious candidates including Perni Morel at the Unicorn and our very own Flossie Waite of Children’s Theatre Reviews and of course Tim Webb of Oily Cart.

In a Pickle is another fine production by Oily Cart

In a Pickle is another fine production by Oily Cart

There’s the work of Graeme Savage at the egg Theatre in Bath with its dedicated programme of productions for younger audiences, and the Half Moon Theatre and Polka Theatre in London. The list is not difficult to produce with numerous actors, musicians and directors who bring so much to so many.

Children’s Theatre Magazine’s movers and shakers
If you have someone in mind and the reasons why you feel they should be highlighted then email childrenstheatremagazine@hotmail.com

Follow Harry Mottram and Harry The Spiv on Facebook and Twitter – and visit www.childrenstheatemagazine.co.uk

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CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE COMMENT: is there a social snobbery about pantomimes by the reviewers?The Stage: Perni and the Unicorn marked down

In today’s Western Daily Press newspaper, Frank Gould of Radstock in Somerset wrote to the editor to proclaim his admiration of the Tobacco Factory’s production of Cinderella: a Fairy Tale.

He described the show as “probably the funniest show I have ever seen” and as “excellent” and that his nine-year-old granddaughter had enjoyed the show despite the “couple of grisly bits” near the end of the show.

The newspaper headlines the story as a “Pantomime” and Mr Gould also insists in his letter that the production is a “pantomime” and that he visited the theatre to see the “yearly pantomime”. Clearly Mr Gould feels the play is a pantomime. In reality it is a play, while down the road at the Hippodrome in the city of Bristol there is a panto but a very different production.

Pictures: Farrows

Pictures: Farrows

Children’s Theatre Magazine reviewed the Tobacco Factory show and declared it to be “too dark” and that “The director decided to take out most of the magical aspect of Cinderella in order to amuse and entertain the largely middle-aged adult audience.” We saw the show as aimed at grown-ups. Not really children’s theatre as such – but good all the same.

The Sally Cookson play has been universally praised as the “bench mark” for the genre of family Christmas shows. However Reviews Hub described the show as “this is largely one for the grown-ups,” and Lucian Waugh of Exeunt Magazine reminded parents that this production was not for young children and like some adults who have a problem with pantomimes saw the show as the antidote to Christmas season pantos. He says in his review: “Shorn of the shonkiest elements and with a handful of gestures towards a modern sensibility, the Christmas show is – for those like myself who cordially loathe pantomime – a chance to have our whimsical, sentimental cake, and eat it without being subjected to eyebrow-raising routines with dwarfs, mothballed horse costumes, and single-entendres, joylessly recited by a cast of ITV desperados who, well into January, are forced to publicly pretend there is something behind them other than their own careers.”

2016-12-cinerella-tobacco-f

His comments reveal the cultural, social, class and age-related prejudices of reviewers. Pantomimes are apparently not very good while he praises Sally Cookson’s Cinderella as a “a colossus of the Christmas show genre.” Pantomimes can be corny and formulaic it is true but they are also the first theatre that many children will witness and many can be brilliant. Almost universal was there praise for the show – all from adult reviewers.

The adorable couple: Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre is staging Cinderella this season with Ryan Thomas heading the cast and Victoria Farley as poor Cinders.

The adorable couple: Swindon’s Wyvern Theatre is staging Cinderella this season with Ryan Thomas heading the cast and Victoria Farley as poor Cinders.

The issue we have at Children’s Theatre Magazine with shows like Cinderella: A Fairy Tale is simply it is aimed at knowing adults rather than children. Yes, many older children will love it and we have no issue with the quality of the production. The age guide is not for 5+ as are for most pantos but for 8+ which is fair enough. But reading the praise from the reviewers you’d believe that Sally Cookson’s play is the perfect entertainment for families at Christmas. We disagree as families begin at pre-school age not at eight or older. Yes, it hits the spot for journalists who have an social attitude about pantomimes and obviously for Mr Gould. Some people may see this view by the reviewers as social snobbery of the worst kind. We could never endorse such views but there is a clear age, class and social divide if you read between the lines of their prose.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter – and if you disagree or agree email childrensthatremagazine@hotmail.com but always visit www.childrenstheatemagazine.co.uk

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Stacey Soloman

Stacey Soloman

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE BLOG: Oops! I forgot my lines; ITV buy Peter Pan; and Kenneth Branagh as a pantomime Dame?

Kenneth Branagh’s sister Joyce has been directing Cinderella at Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre this season while her brother has been filming a remake of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
In an interview with the Yorkshire Post’s Sarah Freeman she explained her love of the genre. The newspaper reported she said: “There is an awful lot of silliness. We took the cast into town the other day for a photoshoot and if you were a man in uniform, let’s just say you weren’t safe.
“I am absolutely loving it. Panto should be a tonic and, blimey, if ever there has been a year when we could all do with a little escapism, then 2016 has been it, hasn’t it?”
She explained some of issues related to staging a pantomime. The Yorkshire Post reported her words: “Whatever people think, pantos are not cheap to stage. There’s the costumes, a live band to pay, the set and that’s all before you’ve employed a single cast member. I know the LBT had wanted to put one on for a little while and had been saving up, but it was only this year that there were enough pennies in the bank. When they asked me what I thought, I said they should have a chat with Andrew Pollard, otherwise known as Mr Panto.”
“Good panto is an art form and Andrew is quite simply the best. I’ve worked with him a number of times and what he doesn’t know about panto isn’t worth knowing. It’s funny, I saw my first ever panto as a kid and I hated it. I didn’t get it at all. It had Jim Davidson in it and looking back I suspect it was too blue. The best pantos appeal across the generations.”
Sarah Freeman asked her if her brother would ever tread the boards in a panto as dame. Joyce Branagh said: “I don’t know what would be on Ken’s wish list, but you never know.”
A TV celebrity was the centre of a certain amount of bitchy comments on social media after she appeared not to have learned her words for her role in a panto. Stacy Soloman, a presenter for The Extra Camp said on ITV’s Loose Women that she did know her words in the Milton Keynes production of Dick Whittington. On stage she held a sparkly clipboard and some members of the audience felt she was reading her lines from it. She explained she had only just got back from Australia and had not had the time to rehearse.
On the gossipy lunchtime show she said: “I landed, woke up the next day, dropped the boys off at school and went into panto – I’d had no rehearsals. The company were well aware and have been really supportive of the fact I was going to be working up until the day that it started and they still wanted me to do it, which is a great privilege and I was really excited to do panto.”
Another TV star was also in the news over a part in a panto. The X-Factor singer Matt Terry took the lead in Peter Pan at the Forum Theatre, Barrow in Furness according to the Sun but due to his TV success ITV had to buy our his contract with the pantomime. However it meant that Oliver Bower took the part and according to the North West Mail made a success of the show with his fine singing voice.

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Left: Robin Hood at the egg, and right: Aladdin next door at the Main House Theatre Royal Bath

Left: Robin Hood at the egg, and right: Aladdin next door at the Main House Theatre Royal Bath

CHILDREN’S THEATRE MAGAZINE – The strange social divide between audiences of two neighbouring shows – but are the messages the same?

Children’s Theatre Magazine Blog: Harry Mottram visits the theatre that pitches two shows that play to two socially diverse audiences

Two plays, two spaces, one address, one city. The Theatre Royal Bath features two contrasting shows this winter. In the Main House at saw Close is the pantomime version of the story of Aladdin complete with soap opera star, high kicking show girls, indoor fireworks and local references in the jokes fired off by Wishy Washy and Widow Twanky. Round the corner but in the same building is Robin Hood with a cast of four, no stars, no fireworks and no high kicking show girls.

And yet they may be playing to different audiences and attracting difference ticket prices but the two shows follow similar themes. Good triumphs over evil, the ruling classes are sent up, the poor and lower classes eventually win out and the audience departs feeling the world has been set to rights – if only inside the theatre.

One sells hundreds of tickets for each performance and other does well to sell a hundred or more tickets a show. Robin Hood sounds traditional but is a modern take on the ancient folk story told by four down and outs in a modern Britain where the homeless are the new poor. Aladdin is set in the strange hybrid world of China, Persia, Arabia and Morocco that comes from a mixture of stories bundled together in the 18th century partly based on the Western notions of where the East was. Turned into pantomime in the Victorian era the narrative features flying carpets and harem-inspired dress mixed with touches of notions of how ancient Chinese residents dressed and staples such as  the sand dance, the bench scene, and good and evil entering from opposite sides of the stage. And yet there’s considerable creativity in the show’s staging, ad-libbing and audience participation. In the egg the audience are equally drawn into the show but instead of tinsel, sparkle and glamour it’s a more muscular and physical affair with a strong political message that wealth redistribution is not only just but fair since all of society contributes to the luxuries enjoyed by the ruling elite.

Neither are authentic stories but neither is unknown, and both are considered well established tales having been made into countless TV, radio, films, musicals, cartoons and books.

Despite the different production values: Robin Hood’s set is largely fallen timber and ropes, while Aladdin’s backdrops are traditional proscenium arch flats which rise and fall behind a curtain, both are high quality theatre. The egg is a pint sized intimate theatre in the round – or on occasion with a thrust stage, while the Main House is a classic 19th century ornate theatre with boxes, balconies and the Gods.

Although many people go to both shows, there is a feeling of two slightly different audiences and social groups. To put it crudely Aladdin is more ITV or Daily Mirror while Robin Hood is more BBC4 and The Guardian in terms of audience. That is a clumsy description but there is more than an element of truth in it and the writers of both plays reach out to their audiences in coded language that won’t alienate the parents. And yet when it comes to those broad themes essentially the messages are similar: be true to yourself, don’t give in to bullies, females can hold their own in any situation, and in the end good will always beat evil. Not a bad message in any theatrical format.

Aladdin runs to Sunday, January 8, 2017.

Robin Hood runs to Sunday, January 15, 2017.

The egg also features The Snow Mouse which runs until January 22, 2017, aimed at pre-schoolers.

Details at www.theatreroyal.org.uk

Visit www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk for more reviews and views. January’s issue is out on January 1, on the website. Follow Harry The Editor on Facebook and Twitter.

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