Aliens Love Underpants, Live on Stage

It’s no secret that I love the theatre and that Thomas appears to be growing to love it too, so it should come as no surprise that I didn’t want to miss out on Ticketmaster’s Kid’s Week promotion, which now actually runs for the entire month of August. Offering a free children’s ticket with every full price adult ticket (plus up to two further half price kids’ tickets) to a wide variety of theatrical events it’s a fantastic way to cut the cost of introducing children to the theatre.

I struggled to choose from the shows that were available this year on dates we could do, but finally settled on a couple of productions, the first of which was one we missed out on last year: Aliens Love Underpants.

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Thomas has a couple of the books from the Underpants series by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort. With bright illusions, quirky and amusing rhymes and lots and lots of underpants, they are a sure fire winner for almost any toddler or preschooler. I was intrigued to see how the fairly short rhyming verse with minimal plot line would be adapted in to an hour long live stage performance. In fact, this is one of the things I love about children’s theatre that is based on books – seeing just how the, invariably short, stories are interpreted. We’ve seen everything from a literal, word-for-word faithful adaptation (Not Now Bernard, is a good example) to shows which deviate only slightly, usually with the addition of songs (such as The Tiger Who Came to Tea) through to some shows which simply share the story, but tell it in their own way (including Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo).

Aliens Love Underpants did not disappoint. In this case the text from the books was padded out with an additional story line revolving around a boy called Tim discovering just what is is that happens to all the underpants his mum is pegging out on the line. In contrast to other reviews I had read, I actually think this show had a fair amount to please the adults in the audience, from jokes about who the various pants in the aliens’ Underpants Hall of Fame belonged to, to the interpretation of washing symbols. There was also an interactive element to the show with cast members coming in to the audience to ask little ones what their favourite types of pants were. Thomas was thrilled to be asked. (His response, for the record, was “starry pants”. Which is true. He does rather like to wear pants with stars on them!) Additionally there were a few catchy songs to tap along to. It was cleverly staged with a minimal cast each taking more than one role, and the skilful use of lovable alien puppets.

Thomas certainly had a ball, and has already asked if we can see it again – if that is nit a ringing endorsement, I don’t know what is!

UnderpantsHe may not look that happy here, but I promise that he was! And that flag has been following him around the house!

Aliens Love Underpants is on at The Dominion Theatre on Charing Cross Road until the 5th September. Kid’s Week Tickets are still available for certain dates through Ticketmaster. We paid for our own tickets and this is not a sponsored or compensated post – we just really love theatre for children!

Room on the Broom at Christmas

Last Christmas, we took Thomas to the theatre for the very first time. We saw a production at The Unicorn Theatre entitled “The Night Before Christmas” which was based around the well-known verse. It was perfectly pitched for his age, and became the first of several theatre trips this year. But sadly, when it came to seeing what the Unicorn had to offer this season, there wasn’t really anything aimed quite at his age group and interest level, which led to us looking elsewhere for a Christmas theatre trip.

We considered Pantomine, obviously. And whilst Thomas loves the theatre and I think would have no trouble sitting through a Panto – and even enjoying it – I just felt that we might be better saving this British institution for another year, until he was even better able to get in to it. We also considered the West-End production of “The Snowman” and Thomas was completely obsessed with the television version last year (I think we watched it every day for a month!). It turns out he still loves it this year, but the stage show is incredibly expensive – it would have cost well over £100 for the three of us to go. I don’t mind splashing out for great theatre (and by all accounts the show is good) but I didn’t want to gamble that much money on Thomas completely enjoying it. he can still be unpredictable in what entertains or scares him!

So in the end we settled on “Room on the Broom” – a Julia Donaldson favourite around here. Granted it’s not an especially festive tale, but this was more about having some special family time to look forward to in the run up to Christmas itself than being purely related to the season. The tickets were also raesonably priced and there were both morning and early afternoon times to choose from.

It turned out that we had chosen a day that was to bring beautiful weather to London. Clear, crisp and incredibly bright, with that low winter sun that seems to give everything added sparkle. We headed up a little early and went to see the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, before taking a wander across Leicester Square and up to the Lyric theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.

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It’s fair to say that the show did not disappoint. I’m always intrigued about how relatively short children’s books will be adapted in to a longer show, and how faithful they will be to the original text. In this case there is some additional scene setting and plenty of singing that does not use verse from the original book, but it is completely recognisable. There is a great amount of repetition for younger viewers too, and Thomas stayed absolutely engaged throughout the just-over-an-hour show.I was slightly concerned that he may find the dragon scary, but I needn’t have worried at all.

This is the first Julia Donaldson inspired stage production that we’ve seen, although I know there are many others out there. I’d definitely recommend it as a great introduction to theatre if you have a Donaldson fan!

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Following the morning show, we walked back across London, enjoying the beautiful weather. Thomas wanted to cross the Hungerford Bridge (is it still even called that?!) to see the trains on their way in to Charing Cross, which made his day. We then made our way over to the Southbank Christmas market and ended up having lunch in Wagamama. (Given how fussy an eater Thomas is, this is an odd one, but Wagamama, along with Pizza Express, is one place that he absolutely guaranteed to love). Our celebrity spot of the day in here was Russel Brand!

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The market itself was very busy, but there was plenty on offer. We didn’t end up spending long as Thomas was pretty tired, and we had already had plenty of Christmas market experience in Brussels.

It was a lovely family day out though, and the tradition of seeing a theatre show in the run up to Christmas is now well and truly cemented!

And Thomas… fell asleep on the train home!

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Peppa Pig’s Big Splash

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I’ve written before, recently, about taking Thomas to the theatre and how much he seems to enjoy it. After The Tiger Who Came to Tea, the second trip I had lined up for this summer was to see Peppa Pig’s Big Splash at the Churchill Theatre in Bromley. It’s a while since I’ve been to the Churchill, but it’s a venue firmly linked to my youth as I used to attend plenty of productions there both with my school theatre group and also with my parents. It’s a really lovely, spacious auditorium, and they tend to have a fantastic line up of touring and pre-West End shows to choose from at reasonable prices.

Peppa Pig is a relatively new thing for Thomas. Having been obsessed with Thomas and Friends since before he really watched television, there has been little room for much else until recently. To be honest, I could have done without the little pink pig coming in to our lives, with her snorting and her muddy puddles, as, truth be told, I find her pretty irritating! And after watching multiple episodes back-to-back during our chicken pox quarantine, even the music sets me a bit on edge now. However, Thomas loves it, and clearly actually gets something from it, as the story lines in Peppa episodes have often been a springboard for his own imaginative play ideas. (There is no road that has not been dug up in our near vicinity!) So I booked the tickets for him, and accepted that I’d have to sit through it.

I have to hold my hands up though, and say that I was impressed. I actually enjoyed myself, and not just because Thomas was so obviously having a ball. The show was actually really good, engaging for young and old(er) alike, and no where near as irritating as the television shows. All the familiar characters were represented as puppets voiced by their operators, and the voices were fairly faithful to the familiar television ones. Mr Bull popped up to “dig up the road”, Daddy Pig was, of course, “a bit of an expert”, George’s dinosaur went missing, resulting in much “waaaahing” and there was plenty of singing including some rousing rounds of everybody’s favourite “Bing Bong Song”. And, of course, there was lots and lots of splashing in muddy puddles and jumping up and down for everyone!

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This was the first theatre production that we’ve been to that had an interval, so I treated Thomas to the traditional ice cream from a tub. This was also partly in reward for the fact that he was incredibly good about not pestering me for the plastic tat they were flogging for nearly a tenner a pop. This was probably my one frustration with this particular show, but I suppose I can’t blame them as they have a captive audience and it’s all business, after all! I understand that it’s a normal part of these touring theatre shows and, sadly, being merchandised at is a now a normal part of life! Of course his own ice cream tub wasn’t quite enough, and he also wanted to share steal mine too!

This post is not sponsored. We paid for our own tickets and all thoughts and opinions are mine (and Thomas’s). I would, however, highly recommend that you go to see the show if you have a little Peppa fan. Peppa Pig’s Big Splash continues to tour the country until January, with more dates promised – see the website for more details by clicking here.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea at The Lyric Theatre

The Tiger Who Came to Tea was one of my favourite books growing up. I recollect reading it over and over, even once I knew it by heart. I loved the simplicity of the story, and the matter-of-fact tone that made it seem a quite ordinary tale, rather than the stuff of fantasy. It’s a book that I’ve enjoyed rediscovering with Thomas, appreciating it afresh for Judith Kerr’s trademark illustrations, and the unavoidable nostalgia in the story itself, as well as the fact that it was a part of my childhood too.

During Ticketmaster’s “Kids Week” Promotion, I was lucky enough to secure tickets for Thomas and I to see the theatrical production of The Tiger Who Came to Tea at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. During Kids Week, free child places are available with a full priced adult ticket. I had originally intended to book Aliens Love Underpants (another book that Thomas loves) but couldn’t get suitable times for us under the promotion. That was when I realised that we could see the Tiger instead.

Kids Week is a good deal. Although it wasn’t Thomas’s first trip to see a theatre production (he’s been to, and loved, The Night Before Christmas and Not Now, Bernard at the Unicorn, in addition to the participatory Sensacional event there) but this was his first trip to a proper West End theatre, with a full auditorium rather than the small, intimate and open seating adopted at the Unicorn productions. I had some concerns he wouldn’t want to sit for the entire hour, or would freak out at seeing the Tiger come to life, rather than staying safely in the pages of his book. (This latter concern grew a little when, at the start of this week, Thomas declared that “I don’t like Tigers.” I asked him why, and he responded “Because they are scary. Rah!”) I also knew that he was pretty unlikely to actually sit in his seat throughout, and would quite probably want to sit on me. For all these reasons it was nice not to have to pay out for a full priced ticket for him. I felt less pressure to stay if it really wasn’t going well!

I needn’t have worried too much though. He didn’t sit in his own seat for anything other than the ten minutes before the show started. But then, to be fair, neither did I! The lady in front of us had a child probably a little older than Thomas with her who wanted to sit on her lap, She offered us the extra seat this created, which meant we moved from the second row of the Dress Circle to the front row, with a fabulous view. Thomas did benefit from sitting on me in order to see better though – and it’s definitely a consideration if taking younger children to the theatre.

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And he absolutely loved it. The play was simple enough, and faithful enough to the book in its styling and dialogue, that it was easy for little ones to follow. There were plenty of songs and even dance routines for everyone to join in with. In fact Thomas was so over exuberant with his “pouncing” during Tigerobics that I had brief nightmares of him flying over the edge of the balcony from our new front row seats! He giggled and clapped and shouted along and looked at me sadly when the Tiger was ready to leave saying “Does the Tiger have to go now?” He waved his Tiger flag furiously during the applause at the end and told me as we left “That was so fun Mummy”.

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I’m so glad that he enjoyed it.Theatre has long been one of my passions, and I’ve always hoped that it would be something Thomas might grow to love too. The signs are certainly good. I’m so glad too that there are an increasing number of these kind of child-friendly shows cropping up in regional theatres and across London.Chatting and fidgeting is perfectly fine, because everyone is in the same boat, and the performances are adjusted to suit.

We followed up our theatre adventure by meeting Daddy for a spot of lunch and then popping in to Daddy’s office too – Thomas was quite fixated on seeing what Ian does there and where his telephone is (?!) He charmed Ian’s colleagues by playing with his trains on the floor of the office and chatting away amiably to them about Thomas and Friends, the train ride to London and how he wanted to go home on a bus. The kid makes me proud in the strangest ways every single day!

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This is not a sponsored post. I’m not associated with Ticketmaster or the production in any way and I bought my own ticket. I can, however, highly recommend going. The Tiger Who Came to Tea is on at the Lyric theatre until the 7th of September.

A “Sensacional” Day Out

Today was our second attempt to take Thomas to Sensacional at the Unicorn Theatre. We’re big Unicorn fans. What’s not to love about a theatre catering specifically for young people? We’ve already taken Thomas to two shows there, one of which was mentioned here and the other – Not Now, Bernard, which I still haven’t got around to writing about. (Suffice it to say: it’s currently on tour, if it’s playing near you then GO!) Thomas clearly feels the same, as when we arrived this time and he realised where we were going, he immediately demanded to know “what are we going to see?” whilst jumping up and down.

We had originally booked tickets for Sensacional, based on excellent reviews from last year, for two weeks ago. Sadly, upon arrival we were told that the performer was ill and so the show was cancelled. Luckily we were able to rebook for today’s final performance and despite the fact that it meant we had a double booking (this morning’s adventures coming up in another post) I knew we had to go.

Image source: Unicorn Theatre
Image source: Unicorn Theatre

Sensacional is an interactive performance for toddlers led by a lone dancer using images projected on to a large screen that doubles as a dance floor. Children are invited to dress up in a white suit in order to become part of the show. The huge tubs of clothes presented our first problem, along with the large open space of the performance area, as all Thomas wanted to do (after insisting that his trains also get dressed up, of course) was race around and pull clothes out of the baskets. You can imagine how laundry day goes down in our house! As we wrestled tug-of-war style with strings of white trousers, the projection began.

Then something amazing happened. Thomas really engaged. He engaged with the performer, dancing and following her moves. And he engaged with the visuals. He spun himself around on top of a spinning flower. He followed a caterpillar made of hearts as it snaked across the floor. He chased bugs and alien creatures. He “swam” in a lake chattering away about splishing and splashing and finally pretended to be a duck.

We were captivated by his captivation.

Not only was this more than worth the ten pound ticket charge (for all three of us) I could actually see this being a fantastic regular toddler group activity. It would even offer the opportunity for worn out parents to drink coffee and chatter whilst their offspring were so absorbed – something that doesn’t happen at most toddler groups I’ve attended, where my close attention is required to mediate squabbles over toys and the supply of snacks! Having it as a recurring group would also allow slightly greater direction from the performer, who necessarily in this case was following a set choreography, but possibly at the expense of engaging or inspiring some less willing participants. (That isn’t a criticism at all, it’s just that I can see this concept, harnessed in a slightly different way, being such a massive springboard for growing imaginations.)

The only minor disappointment for me was that the projection was formed of two identical twenty minute halves (no break). Whilst this clearly allows children to pick up on parts they missed the first time,  and probably simplifies production, Thomas realised the second half was a repeat and became much less engaged. Even rotating the visuals by 90 or 180 degrees might have added enough extra interest.

But despite that, he still loved it, and told us himself how much he had enjoyed it.

“That was really fun” he said, with a look of satisfaction.

What more can you ask?!

 

We are not affiliated with the Unicorn Theatre in any way, and purchased our own ticket for this performance. All views and opinions, as always, are mine. And Thomas’s!