REVIEW: The Emperor’s New Clothes (Polka Theatre)

The country is in chaos. With the cost of living at an all time high, many can’t even afford food, but the leader is too obsessed with his own image to care about what people actually need. Surrounded by sycophants, he splashes cash on vanity projects, dismisses dissent as fake news and lets employees take the fall when things go wrong. And then he gets his kit off. Thankfully, this is not a current affairs story but a review of The Emperor’s New Clothes, which is playing at Polka Theatre. Mummy and Quaver headed over to Wimbledon on Sunday morning to catch this fantastic adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen classic, which has been co-produced by Hiccup Theatre, Polka Theatre and Derby Theatre.

Aimed at ages 3 to 8, The Emperor’s New Clothes is a fun show with a moral message that remains as relevant today as it ever was. It’s a treat for all the senses, filled with brightly coloured costumes and an array of musical instruments, plus a puppet that nicely gets around the question of how you deal with the main character taking all his clothes off in a show for small children! But the absolute highlight of this production is the fantastic integration of BSL and captioning. It makes for a brilliantly accessible experience and is a shining example of how theatre can be created in an inclusive way from the outset, rather than accessibility being treated as an optional add-on.

There is a running theme in the show about miscommunications which arise from hearing characters not being able to understand those whose first language is BSL. In particular, Bobbin, the only person who sees through the lies being told to the Emperor about his magical new garments, is ignored not only because they are a child but because they are deaf. It’s a really nice update to the classic story and a neat way of getting BSL into the plot itself.

When asked what her favourite thing about the show was, Quaver immediately said the sign language. She also enjoyed reading the captions that were embedded within the set design. While this might prove tricky for younger children, it won’t affect their experience as the show is designed to work for everyone, with most content repeated via a mixture of BSL, captions and spoken word. There is a small amount of content which is only in BSL and captions (which some adults in the audience chose to whisper to their children) but this cleverly serves to reinforce one of the production’s central messages about the importance of learning to sign.

A stage with five actors who are all partly visible. Two are waving fans with large pieces of fabric attached. Three are standing on a raised platform towards the back of the stage. The actor in the middle is puppeteering a puppet of a naked, balding man which can be seen from the waist up only. The puppet is sitting inside a box on top of a pedestal. The box has handles allowing the actors to carry it.
Credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Since reopening their newly refurbished building last year, Polka Theatre have demonstrated an outstanding commitment towards improving accessibility and inclusivity in children’s theatre. The Emperor’s New Clothes is another industry leading piece of work which shows just how things should be done. And – unlike the Emperor’s birthday suit – it’s well worth seeing!

The Emperor’s New Clothes plays at Polka Theatre from 28 April to 22 May 2022. We received complimentary press tickets to the 11am performance on Sunday 1 May.