Nottingham Children's Christmas shows 2017 - our reviews: Dear Santa, Cinderella, Black Beauty, Town Mouse and Country Mouse(5 Posts)
It's December at last and we're getting into the spirit of Christmas by immersing ourselves in family theatre. Over the next two weeks, we'll be reviewing four of Nottingham's most exciting seasonal productions, focused on entertaining a younger audience.
Here's a our publication schedule (with the venues' age recommendations in brackets). See our What's On listings for details of each production:
Dear Santa at the Theatre Royal (ages 2-7) - 1st December
Cinderella at Nottingham Playhouse (all ages) - 3rd December
Black Beauty at Lakeside Arts (age 6+) - 11th December
Town Mouse and Country Mouse at Nottingham Playhouse (ages 3-8) - 14th December
Please do add your thoughts and comments, in the thread below.
Here we go, with our review of Dear Santa.
The Theatre Royal invited us to see Dear Santa on Thursday 30th November at 1.30pm. Our reviewers were a two-year-old, a four-year-old and accompanying grown-ups.
We took our seats surrounded by school groups and excited pre-schoolers, looking upon a very Christmassy set, with twinkly stars above (not real stars, our four-year-old informed me).
Then, at the side of the stalls, an elf appeared. He greeted us, walked up to the on-stage workshop and told us about his job. Santa had just gone out to see the reindeer. Wouldn’t it be a good idea for us to welcome him back? We all practised shouting ‘Hello Santa’ and timed our greeting perfectly, as the man himself walked in. Santa settled back to work reading children’s letters and, with Elf’s help, finding the right gift for each child.
We moved to a child’s bedroom, where Sarah was putting up Christmas decorations. She talked to us about how much she loved Christmas and how she wrote a letter to Santa every year. This year though, she couldn’t think what to ask for. Then she had an idea. Sarah asked Santa to send gifts to all the children who wouldn’t have anything new at Christmas. She had lots of toys already, after all.
Back to Santa’s workshop and, what a lovely letter from Sarah! Such a kind child must be rewarded and choosing and delivering presents is what Santa does. Santa and Elf puzzled over what to give Sarah. One thing after another seemed to be too small, too big, too messy, too noisy, too scary, then eventually, purrfect.
Sarah, Santa and Elf involved us in their decisions and their songs, throughout the show. There was a lot of emphasis on naming colours, suited to the younger audience members. We all enjoyed joining in with Jingle Bells, shouting out and waving.
The stars may not have been real but there was no doubt about Santa, whose voice, apparel and demeanour were just right. Rather like the gift of a kitten for Sarah (also deemed real, it did mew). Our adults wondered about keeping an animal in a box for so long (but were pleased to see Dear Zoo's pro-dog bias redressed). Our young reviewers were entranced and we all came out feeling happy and Christmassy. Warm, gentle, magical and perfect for under-6s.
MGS, MAS, CS and CG for Mumsnet Nottingham
Oh no, child-related distractions have delayed us. Have we turned into a pumpkin yet? We think we can still feel the magic. Here's our review of Cinderella
Nottingham Playhouse invited us to see Cinderella on Saturday 2nd December 2017. Our review team were an eight-year-old, his six-year-old brother, their mother and a scribe.
On our way to the Playhouse, our reviewers weren’t quite sure about pantomime. They thought they’d seen one before but weren’t familiar with the usual characters, or expectation of audience participation. Would the Playhouse Panto prove the perfect first experience?
The theatre was packed and festive. A brightly painted curtain rose to reveal a set beautifully bordered with Arendelle-style floral details, Christmassy holly garlands and quite a bit of glittery sparkle. Costumes proved even more fabulous. A chorus of dancing woodland animals set the scene, conjuring a sense of mid-winter magic and reminding us that nature will out, despite human constraint.
Cheerful Buttons greeted us, then left an apple at the side of the stage, asking us to shout out if anyone tried to steal it. Oh yes, ‘Nicker Buttons’ brought him back time after time, as everyone but especially that naughty pair of… sisters, tried to take his fruit. Ugly Sisters Bella and Donna were hideously vain and brutally selfish, though far too busy playing for laughs to be menacing; with John Elkington’s earthy, bantering Bella effectively the show’s lead character. Even their aunt, the Dowager Duchess Devilla, a leopard-print and sequin-covered diva, was more attention-seeking than malicious.
Poor put-upon Cinderella was sweetly, stoically winsome and determined to see the good in everyone. Out collecting firewood, she encountered a poor old lady and, the Prince Charming. As handsomely, dashingly princely as can be, James Nicholson’s Prince Charming really came into his own when singing. As a youthfully relatable, fairytale prince-meets-commoner romantic pair, these two were delightful.
With invitations issued and while Dandini did his bumbling best, it took a silver-toned fairy godmother in a lacy lampshade-like gown to transport Cinderella to the ball.
At the interval, who were our favourite characters? One vote each for Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother. (Mum’s favourite remained Buttons throughout). A dressing-up area with props, in the lower foyer, provided interval entertainment and cute photos.
The second half gave us the ball scene, slipper-testing and finally a wedding. Generously sandwiched between these were the traditional sing-along, children on stage, shout outs, a dance-along and an extended if gently amusing nod to the sponsor.
Throughout, there was a lot of dancing to pop songs; silly, crude but never really rude humour; obligatory put-downs of Derby and Mansfield, plus a set of smaller locales. A very knowing pantomime, full of in-jokes, yet most so simple as to be accessible to everyone.
Were our young reviewers convinced by their panto experience? Oh yes they were! They emerged happy, impressed and just a little bit tired after almost three hours, ready to glide homewards on the top of an NCT double-decker bus (oh yes we did!).
Gently bawdy, friendly, gaudy and lots of Christmassy fun.
OH, HH, RH and CG for Mumsnet Nottingham
Lakeside Arts invited us to see Black Beauty on Saturday 9th December 2017. Our reviewers were a five-and-a-half year-old, her parents and granny.
We arrived at Lakeside excited to see the Christmas show – about a horse. The Walner Gallery displayed two new murals; a static farm scene spattered with stickers and a projection, of a stable, fields, moving horses and other animals darting about. Our young reviewer, unfamiliar with the story of Black Beauty, was intrigued.
A horsebox stood in the middle of the stage, a nameplate on the side saying ‘Hamish’. Two men entered on a green tandem and circled before dismounting. One declared he would call the bicycle ‘Applejack’. They introduced themselves as brothers Andy and Andy (it was a family thing). Older brother Andy quickly emerged as the sensible one, younger though larger brother Andy the sentimental My Little Pony fan.
Andy and Andy were ‘The McCuddy Brothers – equine illusionists’ and it became apparent that Hamish was their business, their beloved, pantomime horse.
It seems though that there is a fashion for pantomime cows. Horses are out of favour and the McCuddys were down on their luck. Parked up on the Dunkirk roundabout they were hopeful for a job in Nottingham. All it needed was one phone call to turn everything around.
As the brothers’ dear mother used to say, there are good days and there are bad days. Today was not a good day. Out of funds and down to their last cocoa pop, Andy and Andy set up a ‘car boot’ stall on the roundabout. They didn’t have much to sell; only their record player, their mother’s silk scarf, her smart black and brown handbags and Andy’s favourite pony, Rainbow Dash. Oh and there was an old copy of Black Beauty. Should they? Why not. Andy began to read.
What ensued was so simple, so childlike, so utterly beguiling. Scenes from Black Beauty were acted out with boots representing horses. The brothers played all the humans and the horsebox doubled as a house, stables and a carriage. Later, the handbags took on the roles of Beauty and Ginger, allowing Ginger’s demise – a scene unmatched in long-remembered literary devastation – to be marked, yet pass unnoticed by any but the most observant newcomer to the tale.
The only potentially troubling part was a fire scene with some tension about whether the horses would escape their stables. While dramatic, this was dealt with swiftly enough to avoid upset. There was plenty more drama; running, chasing and horsing around. The ending, for Hamish and the McCuddys, was quite a surprise and shall remain so.
What did we enjoy best? The scene where the older brother ‘chased’ the younger one by running the opposite way around the horsebox to recover a purloined object. “I know how he did that, I do that at school with my friends.” A desperate attempt to create a transformative udder gained a lot of laughs.
Child’s play taken to a different level, Black Beauty is a delight for children aged 5 or 6 and above, able to follow the interplay between ‘real life’, pantomime dress-up and literary re-enactment. For younger ones, there’s a lot to entertain, if more intermittently but, who doesn’t love a pantomime horse?
Charming, engaging and very, very funny. The most original family production in Nottingham this Christmas.
FD, BD, JD and CG for Mumsnet Nottingham
Scampering breathlessly into place, it's Town Mouse and Country Mouse.
Nottingham Playhouse invited us to see Town Mouse and Country Mouse on Thursday 14th December at 1.15pm. Our reviewers were a nearly-three-year-old, her grandparents and her aunt.
The Playhouse looked wonderfully festive and welcoming. While the main theatre rested between performances of Cinderella, we’d heard there were mice at play upstairs.
The Neville Studio is easily reached by lift or stairs and accessed via a room where pushchairs can be stored during the performance. Our young reviewer coloured in a lovely mousy picture, before a member of staff ushered everyone through to the studio. Here, a swathe of floor cushions offered children the chance to sit around the stage, while grown-ups and anyone preferring a bit of distance, arranged themselves on benches and tiered seating behind.
The cosy set, of giant cotton reel seats around a rag-rug covered floor, evoked a bucolic, Beatrix Potter-like familiarity, with bright red and white-spotted ‘toadstools’ adding creative vibrancy.
Curtis Country Mouse greeted us. Did we know how to greet him back, in friendly country mouse style? No? We quickly learnt. Curtis loved his life in the country. He knew all the farm animals and found plenty of fresh food. In the evening he played homemade musical instruments, before an early night.
What was this? A postcard, from the town. Who was it from? A mysterious ‘T’ and T was coming to visit, today! A brightly-dressed mouse sauntered in. Cousin Tina! Mice do have a lot of cousins.
Curtis was delighted to welcome super-cool, ‘call me T’ Tina but not so delighted that she kept calling him ‘Curty’. Patiently, Curtis explained his preference and the two of them made an agreement. T was keen to explore the countryside but what was there to do? What would they eat? “McDonalds? Which one, Young McDonald or Old McDonald?” irresistibly cheesily encapsulated their differences.
T couldn’t sleep. What was that noise? Curtis asked us to help. Soon, with the audience mimicking cacophonous city noises to drown out the owls, T slept.
Children were invited on stage, four at a time, twice and there was no shortage of joining in to do, for everyone, adults included!
As she rushed home, T invited Curtis to come and stay in town. No, how frightening! But sometimes, isn’t it better to try new things, just as T had done in the country? Used to indifferent humans, Curtis was surprised that his bus journey was cut short by screams but, after a hair-raising scamper, he made it to T’s house. Bright, shiny, modern and noisy, this was everything Curtis’s home wasn’t. But was everything as it appeared? As T revealed more about city life, the cousins had to make a plan.
T’s outward confidence combined with Curtis’s country knowledge to enact an ingenious idea.
We had a lovely time. Afterwards, Curtis and Tina came out and greeted the children, chatting about costumes, Christmas and all things mouse.
A gentle, friendly and uplifting tale, encouraging us all to listen to each other, try new things and work together. Perhaps, with kindness, patience and a little courage, we too can achieve more than any one of us could possibly imagine.
Perfect for the pre-school to young primary age-group.
MD, JD, ID and CG for Mumsnet Nottingham
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