November/December Revue of Reviews: What we watched as 2020 came to a close

It’s been an odd couple of months, even by 2020 standards. With our November theatre trips postponed due to the three week lockdown, things were already pretty gloomy, then we ended up with Quaver in isolation for a fortnight due to a teacher catching Covid. She was barely back in school for a week when the whole school was put on home learning for the last few days of term, only to be brought back into the classroom the following day. In Crotchet’s case, that lasted a grand total of one day as her teacher went into isolation due to a suspected case in her house. In the meantime, London had been put into Tier 3, scuppering our festive theatre plans. That also didn’t last long, with Tier 4 coming hot on its heels, giving us little hope that our rearranged November shows would be happening in January as planned. And then to put the icing on the Covid Christmas cake, we got a text from school informing us that Crotchet’s entire class had been exposed (on the one day they went to school in between being sent home!) confining her to Covid house arrest until Boxing Day. In between all of that, we miraculously managed to get into a couple of theatres as well as making the most of all the festive online offerings. Here’s what we watched as 2020 came to a close……

Live in person theatre!

Regular readers will know that The Barn Theatre in Cirencester has been a beacon of theatrical hope for us this year. When the pandemic first hit, they were quick to move into the digital domain, even producing live online theatre with their Behind the Barn Door series. Crucially for us, this meant some much needed lockdown entertainment for the munchkins as our favourite funny man Tweedy the Clown took to the Barn stage in his weekly show Tweedy’s Lost and Found. As things started to open up in the summer, we found ourselves making a road trip to Cirencester for the Barn’s inaugural outdoor theatre festival, Barnfest. It wasn’t long before the Barn opened their doors to indoor audiences once more, with a season of shows for all ages, including a one-man Peter Pan. When we saw that Tweedy was also performing in a pantomime in nearby Cheltenham it was inevitable that we would be making another trip to Gloucestershire. Having planned the trip weeks back, we were amazed that it somehow survived unscathed, in between all the isolation and tier changes. And they turned out to be our final in person shows of 2020.

Tweedy’s Reduced Pantomime was (by some way) the best panto that we have ever seen. A mash-up of multiple different pantos, it featured an absolutely stellar cast and everything that you could possibly want in a panto, including a wicked script filled with Covid gags, political commentary and innuendo which sat just on the right side of acceptable for a family audience! And, of course, the main man himself, Tweedy the Clown, who delighted audiences with some of his trademark tricks, including a seriously impressive act involving ladders. Sadly the show has had to close early following a change of tier in Cheltenham, but it remains available to watch online.

Waylon Jacobs in Peter Pan. Credit: Eve Dunlop

The next day we finally made it indoors at The Barn where we had front row seats for Peter Pan. Starring a single actor (Waylon Jacobs) it cleverly presents the much-loved children’s story in the form of a father telling the tale to his child via videolink while away on business. It’s a beautifully staged, highly engaging production in which Jacobs skillfully demonstrates the art of storytelling, transporting us from a stormy hotel room to Neverland, a world filled with pirates, mermaids, fairies and adventure. The munchkins were mesmerised. They were also huge fans of the fog machine! It was great to see them – and the other children nearby – gleefully grasping at the clouds of magical mist that engulfed the front row. Another triumph from our theatre of the year and a fitting way to round off our 2020 theatre trips. (After all, is there anything more festive than a pilgrimage to a barn?)

Online Theatre

We may have only managed a couple of in person shows in the last couple of months, but we’ve been busy watching plenty of online theatre, including some live, interactive productions.

Our first casualty of the November lockdown was Mole & Gecko’s Poetry Picnic, an interactive poetry workshop which we were due to join at The Albany, Deptford. As it had always been planned to run in person and online simultaneously, the whole workshop moved online, meaning we were still able to join in the fun with poet Simon Mole and musician Gecko. Through a mixture of games and song, they helped children to break down the daunting task of writing a poem into simple, structured blocks. A few of the pluckier participants (including Quaver) then read out their poems at the end. Quite a few of them had been attending Simon Mole’s regular poetry workshops and it was great to hear them confidently reading their impressive creations. We would definitely recommend checking out these workshops if you get a chance.

The four main characters in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz running towards the camera
The cast of Creation Theatre’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

As the festive season got underway we were also invited to review a couple of Zoom based shows which put a 2020 spin on some classic tales, with Creation Theatre’s 2020 take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and Tea Break Theatre’s Sleeping Beauty?. Both were fun shows which touched on some key themes from 2020, with Creation’s production impressively pushing the boundaries of what can be done via Zoom.

Another excellent Zoom-based production for families was First Three Drops, a highly accessible piece of digital theatre from Taking Flight Theatre Company. We also tried out some other interactive activities, including Lyngo Theatre’s Play at Home experience The Gift of Winter and Tessa Bide Productions’ choose your own adventure style game The Anarchist’s Mobile Library, both of which proved to be very useful for occupying an isolating munchkin.

Ian Nicholson in A Christmas Carol

With tons of festive family theatre available online, we also got through quite a few recorded shows, the highlights of which were Ian Nicholson and Sam Wilde’s cardboard puppet production of A Christmas Carol (Polka Theatre) and the beautiful Sammy and the Beanstalk (OperaUpClose). We also very much enjoyed Sleeping Trees’ living room panto The Legend of Moby Dick Whittington.

Abigail Kelly in Sammy and the Beanstalk

Having lost out on our annual Christmas Eve theatre trip we were obviously going to pick an online offering to watch from home instead. Since we had been due to see the Palladium Panto for the first time, we went for the closest available alternative and watched the National Theatre’s Dick Whittington which had been made available for free on YouTube. Although it had some fun moments, and all the elements that should make up a great panto (including some good innuendo – the best of which was a particularly naughty joke about Eat out to Help Out), it didn’t quite hit the mark for us. Some of the good gags were also very London-centric which mean it probably wouldn’t work as well for those outside the capital. It definitely didn’t replace Tweedy’s Reduced Pantomime as our firm favourite – If you’re looking for something to stave off the January blues, we would definitely recommend shelling out the money to stream it!

After putting the munchkins to bed on Christmas Eve, Mummy and Mrs Mummy then settled down to stream a recording of Lou and Rachel’s Christmas Cracker, a Christmas cabaret from Louise Dearman and Rachel Tucker which was performed live at the Crazy Coqs on the final night before London went into tier 3. Regular readers will know that we are big ‘Tuckman’ fans and have enjoyed seeing our favourite pair of witches reunited in 2020. This was a particularly fun gig, featuring plenty of festive favourites and some much needed daftness.

We’ve had a bit of a break from online theatre over the Christmas holidays, with Mrs Mummy and the munchkins watching a lot of festive films instead, but Mummy has a bit of a hit list of Christmas shows to watch while they’re still available so expect some more reviews soon!