I’d love to be able to tell you that I could remember my first ever experience of theatre. But actually, I can’t really remember at all. Whilst we certainly weren’t regulars to the west end as kids, I do remember by my teens I’d seen a couple of big musicals and was a big fan of the dazzling lights of the theatre. I always wanted to (and never did) see Cats, and Starlight express, and it took me a few years to cross off Grease, The Lion King, Phantom and Les Mis (which remains my favourite to this day).
It’s hard to gauge when the time is right to take your children to a theatre performance – it’s all about balancing the cost, the time and the show with their ability to sit still and hold on to their wee for more than half an hour.
Tigs has managed her way through a pantomime or two no problem, and a matinee performance of Matilda in the West End last year (with her Grandparents) so just shy of six, she’s fair game for enjoying some culture on stage.
The cost and logistics of the West end can be a epic, but with so many amazing shows touring the U.K., a local theatre can be a perfect alternative for taking the littles to a show, without all the drama.
Within a half hour drive or so from us is The Orchard Theatre, in Dartford, Kent. I’ve seen plenty of performances there over the years, recently we were wowed by the Sound of Music, and in the past have seen the West end shows Grease (oh and the vagina monologues too).
Last weekend, we snapped up the chance to book up to see the stage adaptation of the David Walliams’ children’s book ‘Awful Auntie’. Unable to make the matinee performances, we secured six seats for the seven p.m. performance, confident that Tig’s would be able to stay awake beyond the interval – high on the excitement of being out with her Mum, Aunties, cousin and Nanny after bedtime. That’s a triple threat Auntie combo, plus a bonus Nanny for good measure.
We hadn’t read the book, so had no idea what to expect from the stage show. A cast of five charismatic characters soon had us gripped in a story of mystery, adventure, comedy and love. It’s always impressive to see such a small number of people on stage hold your attention for an entire performance – and more still when the audience are fidgety kids, so fair play to the cast. Amazing job!
I love to see how a stage set works, and with just four rotating towers on the stage, the story flowed seamlessly from room to room of Saxby hall, and let Tig’s mind travel to the places in the story as it unfolded in front of us.
Whilst Stella and Soot unravelled the mystery of her parents death at the hands of Awful Auntie Alberta, we were entertained by the magical flight of Wagner the owl, and the hilarious antics of Gibbon the butler. The puppetry was a particular highlight.
In many ways the style of Awful Auntie took me back to my childhood days and love of Roald Dahl – Auntie Alberta had a touch of the Trunchbull about her (mixed with a bit of little Britain), whilst the pranks Soot and Stella whipped up, The Twits would be proud of.
The girls loved the performance, as did the grown ups. We had a fantastic view in the upper circle, and although it was freezing outside, it was toasty in the theatre. Heat rises I guess! The first half flew by, and with an interval perfectly timed for a leg stretch and comfort break, the girls were keen to find out how Stella would escape the unpleasant grip of her pretty awful Auntie in the finale.
As the show came to an end just after nine pm, with a little lump in our throat we said goodbye, having fallen a bit in love with Soot and Stella’s bond. I’d definitely be up for more David Walliams tales – both in print and on stage, as I’ve had a taster of what they offer and I’m hooked.
In terms of the theatre, whilst our five year old stage critic was snoozing in the car on the way home, I know this is one stage show memory that will stay with her, and perhaps one day she’ll retell this memory to her own family.
Disclosure: We were given a discounted ticket rate, all opinions are our own.