The Christmas countdown has begun, the Christmas adverts have taken over the TV, the red Starbucks cups are in store and Leona Lewis has turned on the Regent Street Christmas lights; in theatre land the pantomime dame outfits are being dusted off, magical beanstalks prepare to grow from plain old beans and giants slowly awaken from their slumber in the sky, Father Christmas starts packing his sleigh and Rudolph, Donner and Blitzen limber up for their flights across the stage.
It’s that time of year where there is a wealth of entertainment suitable and appealing for the whole family; productions range from the stage adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s Father Christmas and his infamous annual production of The Snowman to the local pantomime – a firm annual fixture for theatres all across the country. There are slapstick and slop moments that make all ages laugh and songs that get everyone tapping their toes and dancing in the aisles. Christmas shows are the perfect introduction to theatre for children, they are often relaxed and fun, and usually making as much noise as possible is actively encouraged! Without help from the audience Jack might never be brave enough to climb the beanstalk, and King Rat might finally capture Dick Whittington if the audience didn’t shout out that he was behind him, and let’s not forget that the person who truly saves the day in every pantomime is a child. From all the willing volunteers waving their hands in the air, it is a child who is picked to come up on to the stage and enter the magical world to ensure that all things turn out right in the end.
Theatre more than most other live art forms encourages children to use their imagination, it’s where magical moments happen only a breath away from mouths that are open in awe. Theatre is where animals can come to life through the talents of puppeteers, Aladdin’s magic carpet actually flies and Cinderella’s dress transforms from rags to riches all in the blink of an eye. But theatre isn’t just about opening up a world of imagination for children, it’s also an opportunity to rediscover and enjoy the magic as an adult.
Becoming a mother has encouraged me to pay a little more attention and enjoy the little things in life, when I point out the sparkly Christmas lights to my son I’ve started to notice how much they twinkle at dusk, when I help him draw back the curtains in the morning I see the sparkle of the frost lingering on the boughs of trees and I delight as he does in the colours and crunch of the autumn leaves. But it’s not only Christmas that feels more exciting than ever, as a mum who works in theatre as well as being an avid theatregoer I’ve started watching theatre as if it was for the first time and enjoying it so much more.
I recently saw The Light Princess at the National Theatre which is a magical fairytale created through puppets and clever stage craft and started to think how amazing it would be to watch as a child. The princess was able to float through the air carried and manipulated by acrobats in astonishing feats of movement, whilst the storm appeared to wash over the stage using swathes of material accompanied by live music and there was no need for CGI or special effects. But by the end I realised that I didn’t need to be a child to enjoy it as much as I had, I just had to think like one to allow my imagination to immerse myself in this weird and wonderful world.
A week after this experience I took my 15 month old son to the theatre, he was taken to his first show when he was only 5 months old but slept through the whole thing so I knew that this would be the real test. I needn’t have worried, although slightly reluctant at first once it began he was mesmerised by the lights and danced along to the songs. He did get slightly overwhelmed by the older children who were being encouraged to shout and sing along with the characters on stage, although I’m sure it won’t be long before he joins in. At one point I took the opportunity to glance around at the audience, aged 6 months to 60 years, and noticed that everyone was smiling and laughing along, lost in the world portrayed on stage. It was then that I felt really excited to be part of something that I could enjoy as much as my son and that we could experience together.
And now the Christmas season is upon us, the Lyric Hammersmith’s pantomime is about to open, this year it’s Jack & the Beanstalk and I can’t wait to take my whole family to see it. It’s the one show of the year that all four generations can enjoy together, and if everyone believes enough in the magic of Christmas we might even make it snow.
Thank you to Imogen Kinchin, Senior Producer at the Lyric Hammersmith for writing this piece.