Sherman Cymru’s Family Festival

Theatre Hullabaloo and Theatr Iolo

 

It’s not really surprising that the arts traditionally cater for an adult, intellectual audience.  After all, to be stimulating, art must be obscure and complex; isn’t it true that to impress friends with your Facebook status, you need something almost unintelligible to boast of. Of course, this is a crass exaggeration. This is, however, too often the case.  So it can be a challenge for parents trying to find stimulating experiences for your toddler. 

Enter Sherman Cymru’s Family Festival, stage left.  With a range of immersive theatre performances and shows, including a Baby Rave and a multi-lingual performance Spraoi from Galway-based Branar, the Festival offers something for children of all ages.  Add in the foyer-games and fringe colouring activities, and the Festival offered a great opportunity to introduce children to the theatre.

Without doubt the most enticing performance was Luna, a collaboration between Theatre Hullabaloo and Theatr Iolo. 

Luna

Entering the large theatre, one can be forgiven for thinking the venue will be inappropriate for the age group, but as soon as the door opens the gentle cello in the hands of the masterful composer-come-musician Greg Hall soothes all such fears as the children make their way to small benches and cushions at the front, just off stage. The set is simple: a metal-framed bed, centre of much of the later comedy, stands centre stage; on the wall behind it hangs a shelf and a window with the night sky beyond.  Just in front of the cushions is a box, with an alphabet train telling us this is Billy’s room.

The covers shift: the children jump. Out pops a pig.  He looks left and right and up and down, looking for danger, before disappearing beneath the covers again.  Again, out pops Pig, this time followed by Billy himself (Chris Farish) who’s been hiding inside, pretending to be asleep.  What follows is an entertaining display of soft toy puppetry as Billy and Pig escape from the bed while trying not to wake up Mum & Dad.  Within moments, the children are relaxed and laughing, transfixed by Billy’s imaginative play.

Farish’s performance is every bit the playful child, his mannerisms and expressions clearly born of a playful nature, and he’s best when Billy shares with Pig his fears of the dark.  Here is the insight into Billy himself, when the lines between actor and character blur, and only Pig is able to settle Billy’s nerves.

Catherine Lucie, playing Luna, has less to work with.  Luna, the eponymous girl from the moon, descends as a falling star and, wordless, hums haunting, high-pitched indications of her story.  She blends with the music beautifully, which by now includes both a classical guitar and xylophone, and perhaps her eerie speechlessness is just right to give toddlers a feel of otherworldliness.  Either way, Luna is a spooky counterpoint to the very familiar Billy.

What follows is hardly the point: it’s the atmosphere which makes this show absorbing, fascinating theatre, and the music influences this more than anything else.  Billy’s rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Pig’ – which substitutes the traditional final ‘how I wonder what you are’ for ‘he eats chocolate and I eat macaroni cheese’ causes fits of laughter from all children present (and days of repeated requests to ‘sing it again, Daddy’ from one toddler).

Finishing with a sing-along and a photo opportunity with Pig, Luna was a lovely introduction to the theatre for children, and well worth the £7 ticket price.

It’s to Sherman’s credit that in their bid to develop their audience to encourage wider participation, which has been boosted by a recent £500,000 grant from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, that children are first in their thoughts.