It may technically have been 2019 for over a week now, but in munchkinland the new year only really starts when the kids go back to school. Having spent most of yesterday trying to find my house under mountains of Christmas presents and laundry, today is the day for computer-based life admin. And the first day of my new year’s blogging resolution.
As part of yesterday’s new year tidy-up, I took my 2018 show calendar off the kitchen wall (oh yes, I have a separate calendar just for shows!) and counted up the number of stagey events Crotchet and Quaver attended last year. It came in at an impressive 36 (and that’s without counting any trips to the cinema). In comparison, poor Mummy only managed to make it to 7 shows without the munchkins (several of which she saw on her own)!
Here are my top 10 events of 2018:
Bananaman, Southwark Playhouse (January 2018) The munchkins’ first full length musical. And their first experience of sitting in the front row. Fantastic audience interaction from a stellar cast (most notably Marc Pickering as a comedy villain) meant that the kids remained engaged throughout and left singing. The sort of farce for which the Southwark Playhouse is starting to get a reputation. Not quite in the same league as the Toxic Avenger or Xanadu, but certainly more child friendly!
Seesaw, Unicorn Theatre (February 2018) Having seen Boing a few months before, expectations were high for our next outing to the Unicorn. And it didn’t disappoint. Seesaw was a poignant piece about childhood friendships, set in a giant sandpit. And a lovely touch at the end when the children were invited to play in the sand.
Where’s My Igloo Gone?, Greenwich Theatre (April 2018) Another very poignant show, with a climate change message that was conveyed beautifully by a dripping block of ice. This was a beautiful piece of immersive theatre, in which the narrative was conveyed without a single word of English. One of those rare occasions where a children’s show is genuinely entertaining for the adults as well.
Me and My Bee, Greenwich Theatre (April 2018) Continuing a strong Spring season at Greenwich theatre was another show with an environmental message. A family comedy which was as funny for the adults as it was for the children, the premise of this show was a “political party disguised as a party party”. Sitting in the front row again had its benefits, with Quaver selected to go up on stage blindfolded and pin a stinger to the bottom of a man dressed as a bee. Weeks later the munchkins were still chanting: “Pollination for the nation. Save the bees, save the world”.
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, Lyric Theatre (August 2018) Previous visits to the Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Gruffalo sent me into this one thinking “oh help, oh no, it’s a children’s show”. I was wrong. Although Bear Hunt follows the same basic premise of stringing out a much loved book into a 50 minute stage show, it does so far more artistically. There were some really fun moments, including the use of water pistols . I had also booked a Kids Week activity, which allowed the munchkins to re-enact several scenes with the cast (thankfully not the water pistols, although they did get to splash through buckets of water to represent the river). Thoroughly recommended. Even if you think your children might be growing out of kiddy shows, this one is likely to hold their attention.
Starseekers, National Theatre (August 2018) This was another suprisingly enjoyable show. Partly improvised, and highly interactive, it centred around three astronauts on a mission to find stars. No two shows will be exactly the same, as suggestions were taken from the children, although there was a central plot which was clearly followed. The children were given time beforehand to make their own astronaut outfits, which are still hanging around my living room months later!
Strictly Ballroom, Picadilly Theatre (September 2018) We took the plunge and took the munchkins to a proper West End show for the first time. We were a bit nervous that it might not hold their attention, especially as we were towards the back of the stalls, but they absolutely loved it. I think elements of the plot probably went over their heads but they were completely enthralled by all the dance numbers. I cringed every time one of the characters swore, but the munchkins seemed to miss it completely (or at least I haven’t heard them call anyone a w**nker or tell them to p*$$ off since). I’ve only seen the film once and don’t really remember it but my wife informs me that the stage show was very true to the film. Not the best show I’ve ever seen but a fun afternoon in the West End for the whole family.
Wicked, Apollo Victoria Theatre (October 2018) A second trip to the West End proper for the munchkins, and this time to their spiritual home in the merry old land of Oz. This is our guilty pleasure musical so it was always going to be a special day when we first took the munchkins to experience the magic with us. We deliberated leaving it until they were a bit older, but decided to go for it after the success of Strictly Ballroom. Wicked is far louder, and does have some scary moments that make it more suitable for slightly older children, but the benefit of having seen it 17 times before(!) is that we could warn them about the scary bits and be ready with precautionary hand holding. Slightly scary dragon and wizard head aside, I would thoroughly recommend this for children aged 7+ or any brave younger children who are seasoned theatre-goers. The music, dancing, lighting and costumes make for a great spectacle and cleverly juxtapose a message about looking beyond the surface. At the heart of Wicked is a story about challenging perceptions and the importance of friendship.
The Chit Chat Chalk Show, Albany Theatre (18 November 2018) We made quite a few visits to the Albany Theatre in Deptford over the last year, and its programming is always of a high quality. I’ve singled out the Chit Chat Chalk Show as it was a very innovative piece which combined contemporary dance, spoken word and the use of chalk to discuss how to express feelings. Not only was it an enjoyable afternoon but Crotchet (notoriously avoidant when it comes to emotions) has since been talking about the colours that she is feeling. Appropriately for a show about feelings, I arrived at the theatre in a foul mood and left uplifted.
The Showstoppers Kids Show, Christmas in Leicester Square (December 2018) Our final show of 2018 was a gift from generous but unsuspecting family friends who hate musicals. Turns out they didn’t read the website carefully and had no idea they would be watching an entirely improvised musical at 11am with no alcohol! Having seen the adult version before, I admit I was surprised when they suggested it, but assumed they were sucking it up because it was a present for the munchkins. No two shows will ever be the same, as the show is based entirely on audience suggestions, and the talented cast also rotates. The format was similar to their adult show, but they only look plot suggestions from children. And dutifully stuck to those suggestions, resulting in a plot which involved various characters pooping out potatoes on at least three occasions. Other highlights included Tomato the Alien managing Chelsea Football Club. If you haven’t seen the Showstoppers, do try to catch them at The Other Palace in 2019.