I didn’t go to the theatre a lot as a child, surprisingly. Not to watch shows, anyway. I was in more than I saw – always in dance shows, school plays, and the like. I never saw any theatre aside from ITV recordings of pantos and the very occasional school trip. In fact, I could count on one hand the shows I’d seen before leaving home for university.
My parents couldn’t really afford to take my siblings and I to the theatre, and our town didn’t have a huge choice either. The next city over (Norwich) is fab but that would involve a train and just end up being quite pricey for out quite not-very-affluent family. I was content watching my video tape of Grease anyway. Rama-lama-lama.
On Saturday night I saw Pinocchio at the National Theatre. I was on my own, surrounded by couples and families and lots of children. I mean, this was natural. It’s a well-known story which boasted some of the songs from the Disney film, without being a musical as such. I could hear the children in front of me, chattering, making friends across the rows of seats. I heard one child say something along the lines of “I don’t have any more World War I jokes” but let’s not talk about that. Whilst these children were talking away, I was glued to my phone, scrolling, scrolling, getting frustrated that the wifi kept disconnecting, scrolling some more. Double tap. Double tap.
“Look, it’s snowing!” I heard a small voice exclaim from two rows in front of me, and sure enough, it had begun to snow on stage. Beautiful little flakes of snow, making me feel somewhat festive and childlike. I stared, kind of entranced (it had been a long day at work), shut my phone off, and settled down for the show.
I normally get frustrated when I hear people talking during shows. I’ve been conditioned that the theatre is a space to just sit and listen, and to react as quietly as possible. I read an article a while back which broke down some thoughts against that, and it’s been playing on my mind since. During this show, the children would talk about it. I would hear gasps at the huge Gepetto and Blue Fairy puppets in the first scene, the sigh of wonder at the little blue flame flying seamlessly (or so it appeared) across the stage.
And I wasn’t annoyed by that. If anything, hearing those gasps and whispers (“it would be well fun to fly”) enhanced my experience of the show. It was great to hear the children engaging with the show, to ask questions and react so outwardly, and not be shushed by their adult company. I definitely thought about the show different due to being aware of their presence.
It’s a curious show. With a book by Dennis Kelly and direction by John Tiffany it’s not the colourful, cartoon-ish show one would expect if they know the Disney adaptation of the classic story. Instead the colours are kind of muted and faded. I recognise the songs, but they sound different. Haunting. A ghost of what once was. I actually get quite scared when the children start turning into donkeys. Maybe it’s an old reaction dragged up from my childhood, but it’s still a horrible sight. I wonder if the children around me are scared, too, or if this sort of thing just goes over their heads and is all part of the magic.
I don’t hear any children complaining, though. For some, this is the first time they’ve heard the story. This is all natural to them. The show isn’t catering to an ‘ideal colourful children’s show’ narrative. In it there is something for everyone. Though the message – if there is one – isn’t quite there, or fitting, it’s still an enjoyable watch.
There’s a lot of tricks throughout. A lot of good old fashioned stage craft. Wires, hands and set covering quick changes, attention-diverters are all there, and even though I can work out how *most* of it is done, I adopt the mind of the young people sat around me, and just revel in the magical quality of it. To them, it is real, even if at one point one screams with glee “I can see the wires!”.
I’m not really sure what I’m trying to say with all of this. I guess I’m jealous of these kids really, who get to witness such high-quality theatre at such a young age. Saying that, for some this may be their only big theatre trip for years.
I just think it’s important that children continue going to the theatre, and not to pander to what we *think* they want to see or what we *think* is appropriate for them; Pinocchio wasn’t all-singing, all-dancing and quite dark and wordy in places but that didn’t stop them coming out with huge grins clapping away.
And sometimes, things can be merely enjoyable. We do a lot of analysis and critique but you know, some days I just want to sit and leisurely enjoy some ‘art’, as it were. Enjoy the show through the eyes of a child.
That’s it really.