Tuesday, August 09, 2016

"Hairy Maclary & friends" - August 2016

Although Lynley Dodd’s Hairy Maclary stories have never been among Miss Ritz’s favourites, we had good reasons for taking her along to Nonsenseroom’s “Hairy Maclary & Friends”.  Their shows for grown ups at Rosslyn Chapel were highlights of our Fringe trips for many years, and Waldorf had seen their “Hairy Maclary” show with some friend’s little ones a few years back.  So we knew this would be high quality stuff.

Unlike so many character based shows for children, this one doesn’t take the puppet option (with the exception of Zachary Quack the duck).  As well as the two human characters, all of the dogs (and cat) are performers in costume.  Being so used to similar shows operating with very small casts I was initially incredibly impressed by the impossibly quick changes the performers were making - until it dawned on me that this is a full company of seven actors – which eventually allows all of the canine friends on stage at once.   For years I’d mocked one of the little ones (old enough to know better) that had accompanied Waldorf previously for asking at the end “Were they real dogs?” but I have to admit that from more than a few rows back both Hairy Maclary and Muffin McLay are pretty convincing!  And the set is also several cuts above the usual efforts – with some very cleverly created obstacles and an ingeniously designed multi-purpose picket fence. 

It’s a charming show to watch as a child or adult – in part of course due to Dodd’s writing and characters – but also because of the framework that holds the stories together.  Miss Plum and Sam Stone the Butcher act as our narrators and keep the youngsters in the audience fully involved while calling back to old school panto routines to boost the nostalgia factor for the adults.  Our Miss Ritz really enjoyed it, but I do have to issue a little parental warning about the show.  At two-and-a-half, Miss Ritz can be a sensitive little soul at times and she found Scarface Claw a little on the scary side. She also gets quite emotionally involved so had a couple of quiet tears rolling down her cheek when (spoilers ahead) Schnitzel von Krumm lost his comfortable old basket.  Of course the biggest tears of the afternoon were when she didn’t want it to end, but fortunately the cast recording CD made for an acceptable substitute (and we felt was well worth the £10 we paid for it).  And although photographs were not permitted during the show, at the curtain call we were encouraged to take pictures which Miss Ritz will enjoy looking at later.

Nonsenseroom have made an amazing success of this show with several runs at the Fringe and UK and overseas tour, but I still miss those summer evenings at the Fringe and their freezing cold Christmas shows at Rosslyn. The Hairy Maclary tour has now finished but info on future tours will available on the Nonsenseroom website.  They also have a new show at this year’s Fringe – The Shark in the Park. 


Sunday, August 07, 2016

Peppa Pig's Surprise! - July 2016

This wasn't really in our plans as we weren't sure Miss Ritz was quite ready for a full-on large scale theatre experience that the Kings in Glasgow - filled with toddlers - would provide. But a couple of weeks before the show, Miss Ritz was recalling how she had enjoyed her trip to In The Night Garden, and coincidentally that afternoon Waldorf was offered tickets to Peppa Pig Live from a friend who had booked but was unable to attend.

Although all of her previous theatre trips had been to small scale shows, our fears as to how she would cope in a full Kings were unfounded.  Although admittedly we did have good seats in the stalls - and I'm very glad we weren't in the Upper Circle!  The show itself was fairly painless from a parent's point of view and was a pretty good replication of the TV show. Mummy & Daddy Pig were performers in costume while the other younger characters were portrayed by performers with puppets (think Avenue Q without the adult humour). A simple enough tale of a trip to the seaside, but all of the favourite characters make an appearance and there are plenty of fun songs (although the take home CD (£8) grates after 20+ plays in the car).

At around 90 minutes, the show is a bit longer than many aimed at the very young audience and does have an interval.  While perhaps a little safe and unambitious, the show hits all the boxes required and Miss Ritz had an enjoyable time. Our one real disappointment was that photography was prohibited throughout, so Miss Ritz couldn't easily recall the day later - as she like to do.

More details on upcoming tour dates in at Peppa Pig Live


It's been a while...

Yeah, so, it’s been a while (again).  Turns out that even when we do manage to find the time to take Little Miss Ritz on occasional trips to the theatre, finding the time to actually write about it afterwards is near impossible.  With that in mind here is a quick summary of what we’ve seen – and a promise that a couple of fuller reports on shows we've seen more recently will follow shortly. 

In the Night Garden Live – August 2015.

One of the things that we've come to realise when taking Miss Ritz to any kind of event is that the success of it is hugely dependent on so many external factors. A large element is simply what kind of a day she (or any other toddler) is having: a missed nap, a late lunch, a bad night... all can impact significantly.  And while there's little a show can do to prevent any of those, there are a whole host of things on the periphery of a show that when handled well optimise the chances of a successful day, but when handled badly will threaten to turn even the best show into a nightmare.  Fortunately, "In The Night Garden...Live" makes considerable efforts to make everything as easy as possible.  Show times are spread throughout the day with limited crossovers between arriving and exiting audiences; car parking, queues and meet-the-characters are well organised; merchandise prices are restrained and there's plenty of space for buggy parking.  Although I'd been filled with dread in advance of the show, any pain from the content was mitigated by the efforts made by the production to make this a memorable visit - for all the right reasons.  It is superbly slickly run and the temporary ‘showdome’ provides a fantastic first theatre experience in a small-ish audience where everyone gets a good view.  That said, it’s definitely worth paying extra for a premium seat (in the first few rows) and getting there early to sit in the front row (seats aren’t pre-allocated other than premium/non-premium).  The show itself is a mix of performers in costume and puppetry - and it ticks all the boxes little fans of the TV show want to see.  At 1½, Miss Ritz was at the younger end of the audience but she was entranced throughout – although some of the “mild peril” did have her cuddling in to us.  Photography is permitted throughout the show, and even a year later she loves looking at the photos from the day on a tablet.  We would happily have taken her back again this summer, but sadly it’s not returning to Glasgow for 2016 – and it’s not worth the trip to Manchester, Birmingham or London.  More info about this year's tour and to sign up for future tours see the website.

How to be a Christmas Tree – Cumbernauld Theatre, December 2015

Aimed at under 5s this was delightful, clever and funny – for little ones and adults alike.  This is exactly what I’d hoped all children’s theatre would be like: charming and silly enough for the kids but with a sprinkling of gags for the parents.  No panto style innuendo – just smart cultural references, absurd comedy and subversion of the format.  It’s simple concept was beautifully executed – although they did ‘cheat’ a little by avoiding mentioning the most significant element of the transition to between being a tree in the forest and becoming a Christmas tree.  Although the use of chainsaws may have upped its rating from U to 12A!  The 2016 show from Cumbernauld Theatre for under 5s is "Christmas at the Circus" and we'll certainly be booking up.

White – Tron, March 2016 (and touring again in October)

We'd heard so much about this show when Catherine Wheels launched it in 2010 that we considered borrowing nieces and nephews so we could go along.  So now that Miss Ritz was at the right age for it, I was really keen to see it  really keen for her to see it.  Perhaps that raised my expectations too much, but I really didn't get what the fuss was about.  It's definitely pretty to look at, and kept the young audience engaged, but I was left feeling that there must (or maybe should) have been more of a meaning or message to it - about diversity, tolerance and rebellion against suppression.  But although these themes hoverred in the background they never seemed to crystallise.  As a result, it just felt like a fleeting way to spend an hour, and although we talked about it for a couple of days afterwards I'm not sure Miss Ritz would even remember it now.  But it's unquestionably widely and highly acclaimed, so this is definitely an instance where your mileage may vary.  Info on the upcoming tour on the Catherine Wheels website.