Thursday, April 09, 2015

"Tall Tales" at the Tron (Jan - March 2015)

Since the arrival of little Miss Ritz we've kept an eye open for theatre events suitable for young children, but while there are many for those aged three and over, there are very few for under threes. The Tron's "Tiny Tales" (for babies and crawlers) didn't really fit in with Miss Ritz' development timetable last year, so we went straight in to the "Tall Tales" (for those walking independently up to 3 years old).

The block started in January just as Miss Ritz turned 14 months and although walking, she was very much at the younger end of the little ones attending.  In our previous theatre reviews we always tried to give our thoughts in the context of our personal preferences, and I think it's only fair to try and do the same for the shows we'll see with Miss Ritz.  We've been lucky that for the most part she's a pretty chilled, smiley little thing who loves being around other children. She loves her time at nursery and enjoyed various baby classes. Yet, I found that she and I struggled for the first couple of times times we attended "Tall Tales".  She seemed a lot less confident than in other similar environments such as Baby Sensory classes - there were a few tears and I couldn't really say she was enjoying it.  Our third week was very much 'make or break' and our future attendance was in real doubt. Fortunately we had a bit of a breakthrough and there were no more tears after that.  I can't say for sure what the problem was, but when fully booked the classes can feel 'busy' and my best guess would be that she didn't feel she had quite enough 'personal space'.  But as the weeks went on she relaxed more and our Saturday mornings became the fun events I'd hoped they would be.

You may have noticed I've referred to them as 'shows' and 'classes' - so what exactly are the "Tall Tales"?  Part of the Tron's Participation programme, I'd best describe them as instructed storytelling. All the little ones must be accompanied by an adult who takes them through the weekly stories told by class leader Deborah and her assistant Catherine.  Props are passed out to represent elements of the story - sometimes just balls or material, but on occasions basins of water (or even jelly!).  Nothing too fancy - this is all about imagination after all.  There are rhymes to repeat and actions to do, but - and this is a huge plus point for me - there is NO SINGING.  I suspect that's one of the reasons that they attract a good number of Dads.   And although it's all about getting involved, there's no individual 'audience participation' in the sense of everyone else watching (for children or parents). An added benefit is that by keeping the tales and props simple, they can easily be retold at home later.

Each story lasts around 45 minutes which is perfect for the attention spans of the small people and energy levels of the big people. Deborah and Catherine are great with the children - coping admirably with the inevitable unscripted interactions.  They also remember the childrens' names from week to week (stories are booked individually rather than for a block so while there are 'regulars', others drop in and out).  Miss Ritz and I didn't make it every week due to other commitments but we managed to see "Where's that Bear?", "Jungle Dance", "Little Chefs" (my favourite), "Little Chatty Ladybird" (her favourite), "Spring Time" and "On the Building Site".  

My one disappointment is that they aren't filling my theatre-going gap.  I'd hoped that they might be clever, ironic or self aware - giving a few laughs aimed for the adults along the way. Almost like mini-pantomimes.  But those were unrealistic hopes on my part for something I had no right to expect.  "Tall Tales" plays things straight - it's all about the little ones.  As it should be.

The current block of stories has now finished.  The next set starts at the end of April and with Miss Ritz now 17 months I think she'll get a lot more out of them.  Each Saturday morning is a new story with tickets priced at £5 for each child - and they do sell out, so book in advance.

Image by John Johnston used with permission.