The Exchange, North Shields
Young children can be theatre’s most challenging audience. They don’t give a fig for normal theatrical convention and if not absorbed or entertained they’re likely to talk amongst themselves, wander off or just fall asleep.
Theatre Hullabaloo’s latest show, which is on the road for a full month before three weeks at its Darlington home, is aimed at 2- to 5-year-olds—not an age many companies target. Parents are welcome too of course and a decent audience on a bleak December Saturday afternoon at the Exchange, North Shields saw mainly an accompaniment of mums, with a few dads thrown in. There was also one bairn who looked about three days old.
The company transforms the auditorium, putting the audience on the stage and on seats arranged just below it, so we’re looking back to a set built where we’d normally be seated. As this would be most of the nippers’ first theatre trip, this wouldn’t strike them as unusual.
Luna is an uncomplicated, 45-minute piece about a young boy, Billy (Jack Lloyd), and his relationship with the moon (Tamara Saffir) which slides down from the sky to see him. Luna is bored up there on her own and Billy doesn’t like the dark. They become bosom friends and go off on adventure in space, Billy clutching his soft toy pig, called—er—Pig. It’s a journey that will rid him of his fear of the dark.
The third cast member is Emily Atkinson who provides original live music on cello, xylophone, guitar and also sings. More music (all composed by Greg Hall) is on soundtrack.
The play is devised and directed by Sarah Argent. Luna herself is childlike and innocent, seeming almost to shimmer in wide-eyed wonder as she responds to her temporary terrestrial home, her emotion conveyed by movement and gesture (movement by Jem Treays). This balances out Billy’s more obvious earthbound nature.
It’s a simple set (design by Bek Palmer) comprising mainly a bed and a tall, curved, black backdrop in front of which is a large cut-out flat of a house as would be drawn by a child. The couple’s journey itself could be a bit more adventurous and involving the audience more directly would be a bonus.
This was emphasised after the show as the three performers chatted outside the auditorium to their young audience, who clustered round eager and wide-eyed. Almost every aspect of theatre which we adults take for granted would be new to them. Plus which their imaginations are so much more fertile than our own. Catch ‘em at this age, they might just stick around to see more plays as they grow up.
Hullabaloo is doing important cultural work, proving panto isn’t always king at this time of the year.