REVIEW: Inside, What’s Coming Out of the Box? (Arts Depot)

This weekend we were thrilled to be invited along to review Inside, an immersive and interactive show from What’s Coming Out of the Box? Set on a campsite, Inside is inspired by experiences inside the womb, and takes toddlers on a multi-sensory journey from conception to birth. With different versions to suit the different developmental stages within its suggested age range of 1-4, Inside has been specially devised for children to experience alongside their families. The result is an intimate encounter which works both as a standalone experience and as an opportunity to explore one of the big questions posed by small people (“What was it like inside Mummy’s tummy?”)

From the very beginning, this is an interactive experience, with the children greeted outside the theatre and handed a backpack before being escorted to the campsite. Shoes off, they crowd around a paddling pool full of seeds, which they are encouraged to feel before collecting a few in a specimen tube which is filled with water and a unique dye that identifies it as theirs. Then off they march to deliver their precious specimen to an incubator, from which it will be retrieved at the end of the show. Bowls filled with bubbles add to the sensory experience, and ensure that each child remains occupied as the others complete their seed ritual. Then it’s into the tent which provides the setting for the majority of the action. Lined with crocheted blankets and piles of cushions, it is cosy and clearly evocative of the safety of the womb.

Inside the tent, we explore the relationship between the inside and outside. An innovative range of techniques that include shadow puppetry, live sound-making and object theatre are used to bring sights, sounds, smells and even tastes into the tent. The children are an integral part of the performance, with the cast clearly feeding off their reactions and adapting to their audience. Nobody is forced to participate, nor are they required to sit still or stay quiet. It is their moment, to experience how they choose. From amazement at lights darting outside the tent, to disgust at the slices of banana offered (at least Mrs Mummy enjoyed hers!) and guffaws of laughter at a balloon noisily letting out air, it is an organic experience with the child at its centre. And as the experience comes to an end, the children are invited to collect their seeds, which will continue to grow throughout the day. They also emerge brandishing balloons, because this experience has been developed in consultation with parents and nursery professionals who are fully aware that, ultimately, the key to a child’s heart is latex filled with air.

As adoptive parents of a five and seven year old, we may not have been the obvious target market for this production, but the munchkins were every bit as enthralled as their younger peers. And while the inspiration for the experience is readily apparent to the adults of the audience, its abstract nature means that the children do not need to engage directly with sensitive questions of conception and birth. For those who wish their children to fully engage with the experience on this level, we would recommend telling them what the show is about beforehand. Otherwise, you may find yourself needing to do a fair bit of exposition. For those who think this may be too overwhelming for their children, we would suggest just allowing them to enjoy the experience. If nothing else, it may just plant a seed that you can return to when ready.

Inside is a cleverly designed production which takes its audience back to a time which all of us have experienced, yet none can remember. It can be a place to explore questions asked by curious children, a catalyst for conversation with those who haven’t yet asked, or simply a space for sensory seekers to explore and enjoy. If you have under fives (or older children with sensory needs) we would thoroughly recommend taking them on a journey Inside.