Slicker and sillier, Adventures in Wonderland is still a sweet treat

When award-winning children’s theatre company Les Petits first brought their immersive adaptation of Alice in Wonderland to The Vaults, we were left grinning from ear to ear. However, since being frightened half to death by Rob Watt’s Goosebumps at the same venue, I was struggling to persuade my daughter back to this style of theatre, even with the promise of exploring Wonderland all over again.

As we approached the gloomy tunnels under Waterloo Station, I could see that she was apprehensive. This was being compounded by the dingy entrance adorned with skull and crossbones, and there were no words of reassurance from her accompanying friend, who had never experienced this kind of theatre before. I feared that I was going to have my hands full. I was glad I’d drafted in reinforcements (aka her Dad).

The layout of the main foyer, the cloakroom, the box office and the bar, appeared much slicker than before. There were plenty of loos and the popular flamingo croquet was already in action. We were even divided into our groups before we stood in line for our performance. Regardless of things ticking along like a well-wound pocket watch, the kids were still full of impatient excitement as we huddled together with around 20 others, waiting for our call to enter.

Two years on and we were back in Lewis Carroll’s dusty study, packed with curious things in jars and eery moving pictures. With a flicker of the lights, a slightly kookier looking Alice appeared, still stuck behind the mirror and still lost in Wonderland, but this time intent on playing tricks on the Queen of Hearts by stealing her beloved jam tarts! At least, that’s what I think the new twist was. The rattle of the trains above and some neighbouring building work rendered her inaudible for a key moment in the briefing.

Elbows were soon out, as excited adults then tried to keep pace with eager youngsters, as we squeezed through the dark and narrow passageways, crowding into the space which would transport us down the rabbit hole. Once again we were greeted by the White Rabbit, with the chance to grow or shrink determining our group’s path to find her.

On the surface, so much about this return production is the same as the original. The fast paced narrative, the sumptuous costumes, the elaborate set and the spectacular staging, even the majority of the characters that we encounter rang more than a few bells. There is, however, this time around, a much greater injection of silliness, and a more infectious humour which brings light to the imposing tunnels and is highly reminiscent of other Les Petits productions (such as Captain Flynn), that we have come to know and love.

We enjoyed the new clowning between Tweedledum and Tweedledee, distracting young visitors from their scarily big heads set down on the floor. The new Queen of Hearts (played by Adam Collier) was also much less intimidating, and more like a cheeky pantomime dame (in a good way), with pencilled-on lips and an outlandish costume, leading to playful interaction with some dads. She even had one of my young companions feeling sorry for her loss of tarts.

The new set of mushrooms might have seemed right at home in the damp, but I can’t say that the addition of the caterpillar quite captured the trippyness i’ve come to associate with him, but at least the addition of the Unbirthday Song at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party created something of a finale to what previously felt like an abrupt end to our jolly jaunt.

If you missed Adventures in Wonderland the first time around, please don’t make that mistake again. With so few theatre companies investing this level of production into children’s performances, it will do you all the world of good to set yourselves free from the comfy chairs and stop experiencing theatre at arm’s length. It’s expensive, yes, cost prohibitive for some, and it might mean having to deal with the unpredictable and the unexpected, but don’t we all do that as parents and carers anyway?

Intent on demonstrating their satisfaction, I handed my traditional star rating over to my guests, with scores of 2 million 600 and 1068 out of 10, coming through, respectively. Why was it such a resounding success? Well, aside from being described as “the best thing I’ve seen“, it was more importantly “a million times better than Goosebumps” and in comparison described as  “happy exciting”. Phew, I thought to myself, thank goodness for that. Our love affair with interactive theatre is free to continue. I think i’ve got her back.

Adventures in Wonderland is at The Vaults until 3rd September.
Admission £26.50 Adults, £15.50 Children, Family Ticket £71.00.
Check Kidsweek listings from 13th June for Kids go Free offers.
Recommended age 5-10 years.
Strictly no buggies and no babes in arms.
See website for performance dates and times.

Read my original review of Adventures in Wonderland, and my recent interview with Les Petits Artistic Director, Oliver Lansley.

Review: Imagine Art Club, David Hockney for Kids

A focussed way to tackle big exhibitions with kids, with no time for boredom to set in.

When Imagine Art Club founder, museum educator and visual artist Agnieszka Arabska created her David Hockney for Kids event, it was met with an unprecedented response. I was one of over 17,000 people who spotted the event on Facebook, which saw almost 7000 people express an interest in attending and over 600 people confirm their place. Whether it was the draw of one of Britain’s greatest contemporary artists, or Tate’s unwavering popularity at attracting families, it reinforced our shared opinion that children just aren’t suitably catered for when galleries stage major exhibitions.

Established in 2012 in Hanwell, West London, Aga’s successful Saturday School and After School Club combines practical art activities across a range of materials, with interesting ways to learn about artists and art movements. This includes devising child-friendly visits to important museums and galleries in London.

When I first visited David Hockney back in February, I commented on Tate’s lack of family provision for this exhibition. Now, in its closing weeks, I found myself back at Tate Britain with my eldest daughter (aged 6), to road-test one of Imagine Art Club’s trips, feeling lucky to have bagged myself a place on their sell-out run.

Communication before the event was very good, with clear meeting points and start times, and permission forms to sign. When we arrived, we found the group, with Agnieszka impossible to miss, checking off our names whilst showcasing her colourful Hockney socks.

The group size was small and intimate (around 10) which was ample for such a crowded space. Most children were aged 6 to 10 years and left their parents at the door, but accompanying (paying) adults were welcome for those not quite yet at that stage.

Before we entered, we gathered into the corner for a short ‘story’, the tale of sugar magnate, art collector and founder, Sir Henry Tate, and a simple introduction to David Hockney as well. Pitched perfectly, the ‘briefing’ was gentle and slow, with questions to get them thinking and an invitation to chip in. A frisson of excitement ran through the group, as each child received their sketchbook and some freshly sharpened pencils.

Dividing into two smaller groups, we headed in and straight to Hockney’s photo collages housed in Room 7. It was great to enter with purpose, but I did have to hurry my young companion, who seemed keen to take in much of what we’d passed.

Huddled in the corner again, we talked about Polaroid and the art of photo collage, before moving slowly from piece to piece, observing the technique in action. Everyone enjoyed counting the vast numbers of photos used and spotting signs of Hockney with his cheeky tip-toe presence. We even created our own collages, using colourful sheets of cleverly prepared stickers.

Next stop was Room 4, home to Hockney’s infamous A Bigger Splash. We sat down right in front and talked about the painting. What did it remind us of? How do we know he is somewhere hot? How do we find Hockney in the picture? The process was the same, with the children challenged to question, think and look, before recreating for themselves.

Further fun activities included searching for life-like textures amongst Hockney’s double portraits and adding our own rich colour to Hockney’s Hawthorne Blossom Near Rudston (2008) in a room full of his Yorkshire paintings. Our time spent with Hockney’s digital and screen time work was all too brief, before we had to exit via the gift shop. The remainder of our time as a group was then spent making cards and writing messages for David Hockney, who celebrates his 80th birthday in July.

Imagine Art Club’s gallery trip was a breath of fresh air. In a world where all too often family or children’s gallery activities are unstructured arts and crafts, happening outside the exhibition space with little or no link to what’s going on next door. These guided exhibition tours take the learning back into the gallery, losing none of the opportunity for creativity, but re-writing your typical curator tours in a fun and interactive way.

For newbie gallery visitors, the trips are highly educational and a low-risk way to ensure you really make the most of your ticket. For those perhaps used to spending more time in this space, the schedule might feel limiting, lacking flexibility and freedom to explore what takes your fancy. In the room packed with spectacular double portraits, we spent so long spotting textures in our books, we didn’t always step back and appreciate the magnificence of the bigger picture. Similarly, my daughter commented that she would have loved to have spent longer watching Hockney’s iPad creations unfold, “…because that’s what it’s all about mummy, isn’t it?” That is what it’s about for her. On the whole, however, the experience was highly positive, and we both agreed that we learned so much more and looked so much deeper than if we’d have gone it alone. It was the perfect supplement to our usual visits, and a real treat for bigger exhibitions.

The next Imagine Art Club visit is on the 21st May.
See Facebook page for details of American Dream for Kids at the British Museum.
Imagine Art Club runs on Saturday, 10am-12pm or 1-3pm, £27.
There is also an After School Club.

 

Review: Barbican’s Japanese House provides a warm welcome

We might be a little late to the party, but after a busy period of Easter holiday fun, we finally gave ourselves the time to visit Barbican’s first major UK exhibition of Japanese domestic architecture.

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945, promises a feast of modern and contemporary design. The exhibition features over 40 renowned architects as well as a centrepiece in the form of a full-size recreation of the 2005 Moriyama House, designed by award-winning architect Ryue Nishizawa.

If like us, your knowledge of contemporary architecture could scarcely fill the back of a matchbox, do not fear. The beautiful thing about this exhibition is its accessibility. You definitely don’t need any prior knowledge to appreciate what’s on offer, all you need is a love of design, an interest in the built environment around you and a keen sense of adventure to let yourself and your companion explore.

So, what should you expect?

A brilliant activity sheet
Anyone who has visited Barbican Art Gallery before will know that it is a sizeable space. On this rare occasion, however, the team have played an absolute blinder and devised a fantastic activity sheet to guide you through the more technical upper floor. Starting in the upstairs gallery Inhabiting the Experimental, there’s a chance for little ones to choose their favourite house, peer inside curious models and take some inspiration to draw or design their own.

Plenty of video installations
For my young companion, any screen based installation is a big draw, and there’s plenty of this on offer to keep wide eyes mesmerised. There’s film snippets of Japanese home dramas – devised with minimal plot to simply show off abodes, and a host of beguiling manga cartoons, with video cleverly peppered throughout the exhibition, allowing you time and space to take-in the panels on the wall.

An awe-inspiring Japanese House
Downstairs, the exhibition centrepiece will be met with a shriek of excitement, followed by an opportunity to weave a curious path through Mr Moriyama’s house and garden. Whether marvelling at his well stocked kitchen, perusing his extensive belongings or giggling at his tiny bath, there’s more fun than Ikea to be had here. Move from room to room and ponder the incredible use of space, as well as exploring its garden pathways, hidden terraces and private courtyards.

A tea house as good as a tree house
Set within the garden of the Moriyama House, the tea house is a new commission designed especially for the Barbican by architect and historian Terunobu Fujimori. Featuring a beautiful hand-charred timber exterior, visitors are invited to play ‘house’ through climbing up inside its stark plastic interior and peering out of the circular tinted windows, waving at fellow visitors below.

The gallery environment is also transformed every 30 minutes by lighting that mimics dawn to dusk, ensuring that every visitor can experience the magic of these buildings across any one day.

What should you be aware of before visiting with young children?

Rules are rules
Although very family friendly and highly interactive, the ‘no touching, just looking’ rule should still apply. Yes, you can weave through the arches, climb stairs and explore rooms, but discourage little ones from touching the models or moving items found within the house. If cushions, futons and bunny chairs are devoid of items, you’re welcome to try them out for size, but steps obstructed with books and nik-naks stuck down with glue, give a good indication of what’s acceptable here.

Stick to the paths
The garden area has some fun pathways marked out by stones and interesting doorways to pass through. Be mindful not to walk on the stones, or open and close doors, to protect little fingers and delicate exhibits.

Lose the shoes
When entering the tea house, shoes have to be removed and set aside, but should be hastily put back on as you exit. It’s also one way in and one way out, with numbers limited at busy times.

With such a wealth of space beyond the gallery itself, from the foyers to the fountains, the conservatory and the Curve, the Barbican is such a fantastic destination for families. It is, however, easy to be put off by the often over-zealous front of house team, or the unfavourable reactions of the regular patrons. The experiential nature of this exhibition, however, appears to have turned this temporarily on its head, attracting far more younger visitors and with it, a slightly more relaxed approach from the hosts. Add this safety in numbers aspect, together with the peace and serenity that ensues from exploring a home unscathed by tut and toys, and this house will feel like a home in no time, and one you’ll want to return to again, and again, and again.

The Japanese House Architecture and Life after 1945 is at Barbican Art Gallery, Barbican Centre until 25th June.
Admission Adult £14.50, Children 14+ £10, Children under 14 Free.
Sat to Weds 10am to 6pm, Thurs & Fri 10am to 9pm.
Bank Holiday times vary. See website for details

Family friendly arts activities for Easter

Whether you’re running out of ideas at the end of week one, or you’ve just broken up with the holidays ahead of you, the arts have excelled this Easter with a whole host of treats from across the spectrum. Here’s my top picks for families.

David Hockney at Tate Britain
Until 29th May, 10am to 6pm, Adults £19.50, Children £17.50, Under 12s free (up to four per family), All ages
If you weren’t aware that one of the greatest British artists of our time is currently exhibiting his biggest every collection of work at Tate Britain, where have you been? Alongside a host of famous works, his spectacular double portraits and mind-blowing digital work makes this unmissable for kids.

Vuelos by Aracaladanza at Sadlers Wells
14th April 3pm, 15th April 11am and 3.30pm, Adults £18, Children £12, Recommended age 5+
Inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s quest to make man fly, this playful production will leave young viewers wanting to take flight! Forming the centrepiece of Sadler’s Wells annual Family Weekend, the performance dates are accompanied by a mini festival, as the doors of this seemingly intimidating venue are being thrown open for families, inviting them to take part in storytelling, workshops, games and craft activities. If this isn’t enough, Sadler’s Wells still have a few tickets left for their infamous My First Ballet, off-site at the Peacock Theatre.

Wicked Wednesdays workshops at Wilton’s Music Hall
12th April, 11am to 3pm, Free, Recommended age 6+
Any opportunity to introduce the children to this London treasure housed in a fascinating part of the East End, is not to be missed. Using the original Victorian wallpaper in the Mahogany bar as inspiration, families are invited to design and make their own, in this free to drop-in creative workshop.

We’re Stuck! at Shoreditch Town Hall
12th to 15th April, various show times, Adults £12, Children £10, Recommended age 7-12
Whilst we are on the subject of magnificent historical buildings, not a million miles down the road, this Grade II listed wonder is debuting a brand new interactive show for children, inspired by the latest educational neuroscience around our relationship with maths. Using comedy, clowning and general silliness, the show promises a voyage of discovery exploring how amazing and utterly rubbish our brains can be at maths – and how we can best grow our grey matter.

Tudor Tales and Treats at The Charterhouse
14th April 2017, 11am to 3pm, Drop in suggested donation £3, All ages
As part of a pan-London celebration of literature, Cityread has teamed up with the unique Charterhouse to transport visitors back to the 16th century, in a family day packed with storytelling, sweet-making and traditional Tudor dance. Once a monastery, a boys school, a private mansion and now an almshouse, you couldn’t pick a more atmospheric location to explore SJ Parris’ Tudor thriller Prophecy, the focus of a number of more grown-up events as part of this year’s collective read.

Urban Festival at Southbank Centre
Until 17th April, See website for full programme and admission charges, all ages.
No half term would be complete without a trip to the Southbank Centre, and for those who have chosen to stay in London over half term and celebrate the art and artists of our city, Urban Festival is most definitely for you. Quite a bit of the pre bookable programme is now sold out, but if you miss the free Fun DMC hip-hop disco in the Clore Ballroom this weekend, then definitely drop in to Craft the City on 15th and 16th April and create your own city of the future entirely out of cardboard.

Review: Tate Modern’s Ten Days Six Nights is fun while it lasts

If only it was on for longer, I thought as I exited BMW Tate Live: Ten Days Six Nights at Tate Modern this morning. This ten-day extravaganza of installations, performances, film, music and choreography, is also a huge missed opportunity, given it finishes before the Easter holidays, despite the mammoth efforts of their curatorial team.

Since opening the new Switch House last summer, performance has been right at the heart of Tate Modern’s refreshed offering. Staged in the unique space of The Tanks, this exhibition celebrates them coming into their own, proving that art can create participation, and can be experimental, yet informal, playful and fun.

So what can you expect to see in daylight hours?

Isabel Lewis will be taking over the Tanks with her site specific installation, which unfolds between the Lobby and the East Tank as the days go by. Dotted with strange plants and impromptu dancers, she aims to host any visitors with everything from music, to food and scent, ensuring that you don’t leave without taking part in some way, shape or form. Her beguiling piece Occasions 2017, was housed in the East Tank today, providing an even greater expanse of foliage and choreography, to the backdrop of Fred Moten and Wu Tsang’s night-time musical and poetic accompaniment.

Moten and Tsang also provide a superb contribution to daytime proceedings, with their interactive installation Gravitational Feel. Using fabric and sound to trigger ‘chance events’, they’ve filled the rear of the Transformer Galleries with knotted fabric rope, suspended from the ceiling on moveable heads, inviting visitors to touch and animate the strands by passing beneath and between.

CAMP, a collaborative studio founded in Mumbai in 2007 are also sharing the space, demonstrating the power of a ‘window’ in a range of interesting ways. From their CCTV spy films taken at the Arndale Centre, to their oversized LED representation of an overheard conversations, their work challenges us to think about the role of electricity and surveillance in our modern lives. Particularly fun is Windscreen 2002, whereby standing in the space between the framed paper squares and the wall fan, will quickly reveal you as the subject of the work.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is Fujiko Nakaya’s immersive fog sculpture, taking pride of place outside on the first floor terrace. The daughter of an inventor of the artificial snowflake, it’s ironic that her work now centres entirely on creating fog. The misty water vapour cuts a ghostly figure of those who choose to interact, creating something similar to Gotham City from the impressive skyline behind (complete with shrieks of terror by water-soaked bystanders).

What’s great about Ten Days Six Nights is that for once, visiting families can put aside their usual feelings of FOMO. With so much of the fun happening in the day, you’re bound to chance upon something fun, even if you’re dropping in as part of a random South Bank mosey. As the name suggests, however, there are also six nights of spectacular work, so if you’re lucky enough to get a night off, re-live the nineties, with Lorenzo Senni’s laser and sound installations, focussing on the hypnotic and repetitive aspects of trance music.

Ten Days Six Nights is at Tate Modern from 24th March until 2nd April 2017
Open daily 10am-6pm, until 10pm Friday and Saturday
Admission Free
See website for details of what’s on each day and each night

Free Family Highlights For Brighton Fringe

If you can’t quite afford to ship the family all the way to Edinburgh Fringe this year, or simply feel it’s too great an undertaking altogether, why not combine a day out at the seaside with amazing arts activities from all genres, at the lesser known Brighton Fringe? This year’s kids and youth programme spans an incredible 126 shows and events, staged throughout May and the summer half term. If you’re looking to keep things cheap and cheerful, here’s my freebie family highlights that are definitely worth the day trip.

Freebie Theatre

Before you head anywhere, you might want to start by joining the obligatory face painting queue as French street theatre collective Le Facepainting promise to ensure that you look the part (The Warren Children’s Area, St. Peter’s Church North, from 10am, 5-7, 12-14, 19-21 May, All ages). Families will love A Fool and Three Courses, a new perspective on Shakespeare’s King Lear, which steps into the shoes of the King’s young daughters and the struggles that they face as siblings and as royalty (The Deck, Kings Road, 11am, 13-14, 20-21, 27-28 May, All ages). If, however, you fancy a bit more control over your theatrical experience, Playback Impro (Laughing Horse @The Quadrant, North Street, 1pm, 20-21, 27-28 May, Age 7+) allows you to input into the narrative, with four actors taking it in turns to play back audience stories and moments, adding their own comic improvisation.

Cashless Cabaret

Circus duo Edwin and Emilia from Spain, pose as two English gentlemen in Upside Down and Inside Out, a traditional circus show featuring comedy, clowning, acrobatics and juggling (Brighton Spiegeltent: Bosco, Old Steine Gardens, 4pm, 27-29 May, All ages). Bringing their own form of cabaret dance, world record holders Marawa’s Majorettes are hosting a free hoola hooping workshop at Shiny Town in the Brighton Pavillion Gardens (12pm midday, 28 May and 4 June). In the same location, there’s also a range of sideshows on offer from 1pm on the 6 and 27 May during the Fringe City Family Picnic. If you’re visiting with older children, they might enjoy eclectic performance troupe House of Verse, who are hosting a Live Open Jam celebrating rap, beatbox, spoken word and DJing (Marwood Bar & Coffeehouse, 52 Ship Street, 5pm, 3-4 June, Age 12+). Workshops are also available earlier in the day for a small fee, but need to be booked in advance.

Music For No Money

Doing their bit to bring the sunshine skies of Rio to the Brighton Riviera, the city’s first and only traditional Samba school, Brighton School of Samba will be performing twenty-minute sets on the 6 May (2pm) and 27 May (2.15pm) at Fringe Venue 303 in New Road, all ages welcome. Also bringing their unique show to Brighton are masked music group GorillaBot, whose party always seems to be interrupted by strange and silly events (Ship Street pedestrianised area, 1pm and 3pm, 6-7 May, All ages). If, however, you take music a bit more seriously, there’s also free live organ music every Tuesday at St. Bartholomew’s Church, Ann Street (1.10pm, 9, 16, 23 and 30 May, All ages).

Accessible Art

Get to know the many faces of the city and get your own portrait done at Faces of Brighton & Hove, an exhibition hosting an eclectic array of work from a local arts collective (St Patrick’s Hove, Cambridge Road, 11am, 5-7, 10-14, 17-21 and 24-28 May, All ages). Those lucky enough to find The Banjo Groyne between Palace Pier and Brighton Marina on Madeira Drive, will be treated to more than just a sculptural installation, they’ll get a spoken word performance too, in The Tempest, The Shore (12pm midday, 5-31 May, 1-4 June, All ages). There’s a host of interactive exhibitions at Cultureground, a gallery that showcases children and young people’s work from across the city, inviting visitors to view, talk or make (Brighton Youth Centre, Edward Street, 5pm, 30-31 May and 1-3 June, Age 5+). If all this leaves you feeling in a need of an escape, why not get outside of Brighton to combine art with some fun at the farm, as artist Jon Clayton invites you to enjoy his farmyard sculpture and open studio, in a beautiful rural setting. He’s even making refreshments available – cue kids cheer (Ashurst Place Farm, Ashurst, from 11am, 6-7, 13-14, 20-21 May and 3-4 June, All ages).

Brighton Fringe, England’s largest arts festival runs from 5th May to 4th June at various venues.
See website for details and the full family programme.

Arts Aloud Interview: Les Petits founder Oliver Lansley on pushing more boundaries in children’s theatre

Having seen Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs in the spectacular Royal Festival Hall, immersed ourselves in Adventures in Wonderland and been one of the first to catch Captain Flinn follow up, The Magic Cutlass, at Edinburgh Fringe, it’s fair to say we’re big fans of Les Petits, the children’s arm of successful theatre company Les Enfants Terribles. As Adventures in Wonderland gets set to make a return to The Vaults this summer, I caught up with Artistic Director Oliver Lansley, on what makes their approach to children’s entertainment so unique.

Arts Aloud: What was your reason for setting up a spin-off of Les Enfants?
Oliver Lansley: Les Enfants was founded on the principles of highly theatrical, colourful storytelling, and some of our earlier productions (such as Terrible Infants) had already blurred the lines between children’s and adult’s theatre. We’d done loads of touring and outdoor shows which had to be family friendly, highly visual and appeal to a broad audience and we didn’t believe that there should be a difference in how theatre is created for children. At the same time, James (creative partner James Seager) was tired of attending child-centric performances and feeling unfulfilled, yet as a parent it felt like a safe bet. With Les Petits we had to be fairly commercial in our approach to eliminate financial risk for parents, as theatre isn’t cheap. Captain Flinn is a great example of how we decided to recreate the sense of mischief and anarchy captured in our grown up shows, yet with all the familiarity, fun and silliness that kids will enjoy.

AA: What’s so great about having children as your audience?
OL: Grown ups always over-think things, and try to come at things intellectually. Kids are much more direct and accepting, yet more honest in their reaction, so it’s actually much easier to make a bad grown-up show and get away with it! Children either engage or they don’t, and they are surprisingly difficult to manipulate. They constantly surprise us with the things that they enjoy or react to in a performance, versus what we might have expected.

AA: What are the biggest challenges that you face?
OL: As we’ve all seen and read, both the funding and teaching of the arts in schools is seriously under threat, with many not seeing it necessary or essential. As well as the very real threat of our schools producing fewer actors and performers, the implications are much wider. The arts, in its broadest sense, from poetry to theatre, visual art to performance, all have the power to teach children empathy. Theatrical storytelling has the ability to touch you emotionally and physically, and gives you permission to interact. The collective experience of viewing theatre in a room full of strangers, is special and very formative. We obviously feel a huge sense of responsibility in creating theatre for children, in that we will either inspire them, or put them off for life!

“Risk is where exciting theatre is made…”

AA: How do you make your productions more accessible?
OL: Although in the past we have offered various workshops with schools, we could definitely do more to make our work more accessible, but it is a challenge with our levels of production. The First Hippo on the Moon for example (adapted from a story by David Walliams), is a tricky one to take into schools because of the level of costume and puppetry, and the sheer cost of moving and setting it all up again. Local theatres, however, could definitely do more to bring the art of theatre to schools, focusing on the importance of the shared theatrical experience as the most obvious route. They could also maximise opportunities for touring or visiting theatre groups to reach out to the local community during their visit. It can feel like a risky undertaking, but risk is where exciting theatre is made. We need to believe in the educational value of bringing together schools, actors, parents and theatre groups.

AA: So what can we expect from Les Petits in the coming months?
OL: As well as The First Hippo on the Moon continuing its tour, Adventures in Wonderland will be returning to The Vaults. There are also plans for Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs: The Magic Cutlass to return, but for us, projects have to be led by the story, and the best way to re-tell that story. We don’t set out to make immersive theatre, it all comes down to what excites us and what excites the audience. Immersive theatre for kids is such a new and different thing, it gives them the freedom to reach out and interact with the story, that perhaps traditional theatre doesn’t always allow.

One other project we are currently exploring, is where we can take Les Enfants’ The Fantastical Flying Exploratory Laboratory – a large-scale outdoor show originally staged at Latitude last year. The follow-up to the slightly more grown up The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie, it follows Dr Latitude’s global quest of discovery, set entirely in a hot air balloon. It’s absolutely bonkers.

We are so excited about bringing back Alice, which for us is a great example of what can be achieved in kids theatre, and unlike anything else. There’ll be some exciting new adventures in a caterpillar den and even more interaction with the mushroom, all achieved by colourful projection. The journey this time will feel much more joined up to visitors.

“Programmers really need to take more risks, investigate what is out there and take a punt, outside of just presenting the biggest shows for kids”

AA: Who are your theatre heroes and what advice would you give to theatre producers and arts programmers?
OL: For aesthetic we really admire the work of Improbable Theatre, especially Shockheaded Peter, which really blurs the lines between children and adult productions. Their work is influential and impactful, a pure storytelling spectacle. We can definitely trace the roots of Les Petits to that show. Complicite are also brilliant, in fact so much of our work can be drawn from European expressionism.

Programmers really need to take more risks, investigate what is out there and take a punt, outside of just presenting the biggest shows for kids (unless its us of course!). There also has to be a greater push towards kids theatre in general, with local theatres building a stronger sense of community within their site. They need to work hard to gain the trust of visitors in order to get them to explore what’s new, and get the conversation going.

Adventures in Wonderland returns to The Vaults from 13th May 2017
Launcelot Street, SE1 7AD
Admission Adults £26.50, Children £15.50
Running time 90 minutes, Age guidance 5-10 years
See website for more information and performance times