The Forest of Forgotten Discos!

Jackie Hagan
Contact and Jackie Hagan
Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
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The Forest of Forgotten Discos! offers young audiences a story with which they are already familiar but told in a very different way updating The Three Bears to include a gentle message of inclusivity and reflect the availability of the internet.

Nine year old Red (a cocky Paislie Reid) feels neglected after her father develops a relationship with a new girlfriend. Red runs away to The Forest and encounters the robotic and extremely knowledgeable Alexa (Sophie Coward) who advises that Red will not be able to organise a party as intended because three teddy bears live in The Forest and are so depressed after being abandoned by their owners they lie in bed all day. Red, however, is dauntless and determined to bring back disco dancing to the forest where it has been forgotten.

Jackie Hagan, poet and working class queer amputee, best known for her plays for adults, makes a stylish transition towards a younger audience. Hagan does not dumb down her socially-conscious approach and uses the characters to steer young minds in a positive direction. One of the bears is vegan and another is deaf so the cast use British Sign Language as well as spoken dialogue. Paislie Reid is so fluent that her flowing BSL reflects Red’s exuberance and excitement.

While the Contact Theatre is renovated, the company is basing its productions in neighbouring theatres and make great use of the intimate nature of Hope Mill. Cushions are spread on the floor so youngsters can get close to the action and give parents the chance to sit back and leave them to get involved. Katherine Heath’s design looks like a storybook come to life or perhaps a child’s untidy bedroom as the bears’ brightly-coloured dwellings are messy and full of scavenged items. Author Hagen is not so high-minded as to omit the broad humour loved by children so massive baked bean cans give a forewarning of fart jokes.

The cast and director Nickie Miles-Wildin practice as well as preach inclusivity. Much of the success of the play depends on their ability to involve the young audience in the antics of the characters. The play is intended for children aged five upwards who, at that age, may not have attended the theatre before and find the experience daunting. Nickie Miles-Wildin sets a relaxed welcoming atmosphere and the cast are wonderful at putting potentially nervous youngsters at ease.

Sophie Coward, in character as Alexa, greets the audience upon arrival, joking with them and escorting them into the theatre. While everyone is encouraged to join in, dancing with the cast or helping them catch sprouts that bounce around the stage, there is no pressure to do so and the cast are just as comfortable chatting with patrons who prefer to remain seated with their parents as those who jump up and take part from the start. Certainly no one would feel left out from the fun.

The combination of the imaginative approach of Contact and the intimacy of Hope Mill ensures that The Forest of Forgotten Discos! will delight young audiences and is especially suited for those for whom theatregoing is a new experience.

David Cunningham