THE FOREST OF FORGOTTEN DISCOS!

Hope Mill Theatre

Written by Jackie Hagan

Directed by Nickie Miles-Wildin

Commissioned by CONTACT

This is CONTACT’s final show of the year as part of its Contact in the City programme while the new theatre is being built. This time we find them at Hope Mill Theatre which is a perfect festive setting for the Christmas children’s show. Mince pies, mulled wine, carol singers and craft tables for the children set the scene for Jackie Hagan’s The Forest of Forgotten Discos!

The general air of expectation is not disappointed when Alexa from the Amazonian rainforest suddenly appears to welcome the audience into the forest. Children are “scanned” and chatted to by the robotic Alexa who clearly delights in her role of giving information and helping others. Sophie Coward as Alexa is engaging and charismatic. Clad in a fabulous diy hi-tech skirt adorned with flashing lights , Sky remote scanner , etch-a-sketch and other discarded toys and household items, the character is both magically intriguing and easily accessible.

The Forest is full of trees decorated with patchwork crochet squares and brightly coloured gingham, reminiscent trees in local streets with a strong sense of community. The bear’s homes use discarded tents and shower curtains to create a feel that echoes the homeless “villages” in every major city or perhaps the Refugee camps of Calais. Designer Katharine Heath has created a set that is full of charm and is incredibly detailed. Each home is a treasure trove of discarded junk that captures the personality of each character in such a way that I was itching to explore after the show.

The three bears are no cosy, cuddly storybook bears clutching porridge bowls. These bears are discarded or forgotten toys, shabby from past love and cuddles, now scavenging from picnics and refuse bins. Tongue-in-cheek Hagan has a little dig at the organic supermarkets of Chorlton, and keeps the humour flowing with a flatulent bear who lives on baked beans and whose farts are captured as an energy source. Bear Grills, Bear Minimum and Bear Hugs are threadbare, patched and faded,their Velveteen is dulled and gaping where their stuffing pokes through. Each one has a back story that reflects and celebrates the dispossessed and those who feel “other” in our Society. CONTACT, Hagan and Director Nickie Miles-Wildin are clearly all on the same page with a Christmas message that is teaching our children about integration in a joyful and accessible manner.

When feisty 9 year old Red arrives in the forest she is unhappy and frustrated by the prospect of her dad’s new girlfriend. Epitomising that child impulse to run away unaware of risks or outcomes, she encounters Alexa and the bears. The power of disco has gone from the Forest and even virtual assistant Alexa is unsure how to restore it for Christmas. The story of how they all manage to work together despite their differences is a celebration of cooperation and two fingers up to divisive thinking.

Incorporating sign language and visual story telling techniques, this playful tale ensures lots of audience engagement and on stage participation from the children. Even the seating arrangements allow for kids gathering around the stage on cushions and beanbag stools like nursery storytime, while the adults can sit back on chairs or get down with the kids. Having learned our bear boogie dance moves, everyone gets to join in as the power of disco is restored. It is riotous and joyful as the glitterball kicks into action and the disco hits keep playing it’s a little like being in a live TOTPS in the Seventies with The Wombles. Festive feelgood with bags of charm.

CONTACT at Hope Mill Theatre 11-23 December

Images by Lee Baxter

Off the Grid

Waterside, Sale

Written by David Lane

Directed by Chris Elwell

Off the Grid is an immersive play written by David Lane for children’s theatre specialists Half Moon. It looks at the very real issue of what happens when our children and young people fall outside of the social care system and find themselves living “off the grid”.

The stage design by Chris Elwell does an effective job of immersing the audience in this story and ensures none of us stay comfortable and settled in our seats of choice. Like the two main protagonists in this story we are never quite certain of a place to be. The metal grids ensure stark minimalism but also store the props that help drive the narrative. The constant shifts in this piece work well and never create confusion for an audience who may not all be familiar with immersive theatre.

The story of abandoned children, Connor and his little sister Kelly, exactly 10 years younger could be unrelentingly bleak. Sensitive writing and strong performances from Bradley Connor and Jesse Bateson ensure there is plenty of shades in this production. The blend of pathos and desperation is balanced by the children’s capacity for magical thinking. Connor creates a rich internal world that cloaks them both in safer, more hopeful existence as a buffer between them and the harsh reality of their plight.

Bradley Connor gives an intense and impassioned performance. He has a capacity to both enthrall with his storytelling and to petrify as his little sister becomes an obstacle to his own burgeoning needs. He is adept at moving through the space and connecting with the audience in a very potent manner. Jesse Bateson rises to the challenge of conveying her character as a very young child and as a teenager. There is skill and confidence in her performance and she brings real charm and innocence to the role of Kelly.

Running a psychotherapy practice I have encountered a number of adults who have had not too similar childhoods to Kelly and Connor. This production tells an important story that unfortunately is only too true in our current Society. Half Moon have produced a work that is socially and politically relevant and which resonates on a personal level. This is the kind of storytelling in Theatre that makes funding for the Arts so important, and makes attending theatre so rewarding and informing.

On tour

Images by Stephen Beeny

The Siege of ChristmasĀ 


CONTACT
Directed by Alan Lane

Contact Young Company

CONTACT AND SLUNG LOW

Having just seen a big, high octane pantomime earlier this week I was curious as to see how Contact Young Company (CYC) would  approach a Christmas family show. Under the direction of Alan Lane from the wonderful Leeds based Slung Low this was Christmas entertainment at its magical best. 

This promenade performance starts in the foyer as everyone dons headphones which serve to immerse everyone in the performance as it feels like we are all on an Nutcracker Army comms exercise or a festive Mission Impossible!!

Despite the reassuring tone of Dan the Front of House manager there is clearly something seriously amiss at CONTACT. The building has been taken over by some seriously grouchy mince pies and the spirit of Christmas is under siege trapped somewhere in the building we are now locked out off.

What’s more the snow has focused all it’s fall just by the foyer and things are getting a bit chilly. Thank heavens that there is a sudden appearance from a tooled up, highly skilled ninja-like Nutcracker toy soldier who is in search of helpers to save the spirit of Christmas. Sneaking us in via a back door we creep through the darkened with our youngest soldier proudly clutching the remnants of our vital map. This production brilliantly uses the technique of splitting up the audience on the promenade parts to ensure everyone will access needs is included and involved at every stage.

Once inside we encounter a range of magical characters battling their misgivings about Christmas. Elf-like despondent toymakers, sulky teenage fairies who have mislaid their fairy dust, a melting showgirl in a globe  and disheartened life size crackers who can’t pull and feisty rapping  Xmas wrap which has somehow come alive.  

This mission teaches its audience many useful life skills such as how to do the nutcracker freeze , how to custard creep, and how to stop a snow globe from over heating in a building set at a constant 28 degrees. Most importantly of course it reminds us of kindness, co-operation and empathy in an often unequal, unfair World.

All the cast act their wings off and children and adults alike are spellbound by the unfolding scenes. This show makes glorious use of the simple things we associate with Christmas- crackers, twinkling lights, glitter, snowflakes and silly festive jumpers. By the time we have crept through the building gathering resources for our final siege I defy anyone to not feel touched, a little bit humbled and a whole lot more in the mood for Christmas. 

This is a perfect final show for CONTACT as it highlights it’s focus on young people while allowing theatre lovers to say goodbye to a much loved building before it closes its doors for an exciting new rebuilding and refurbishment  programme in 2018. Christmas is looking sparkly and the future of CONTACT is looking bright. 

At CONTACT until Dec 20th

DUCKIEĀ 

CONTACT

Writer/ Performer – Le Chocolat Gateau

Produced/Developed – In Company Collective

There are moments when I wish I could rewind time with my children and go back to when they were very young. Today was such a day, watching the gorgeous DUCKIE I wished my teenage darlings were ten years younger and there in the audience with me. This show is a wonderfully deft merging of cabaret, children’s theatre, fairy tale reimagining and a big dollop of old Hollywood magic.

Cabaret performer and Opera singer Le Gateau Chocolat takes the much loved tale of The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Anderson and goes to the circus to seek out soulmates for this lonely misfit, the runt of the litter. To the delight of the child in all of us, the mischievious performer portrays a duck who cannot quack but belches instead. His lonely duckie can’t quack or dance, he is too small to be a muscleman and too big, too yellow, too tall…… DUCKIE would seem to be a duck who is seriously down on his luck.

The voiceover which speaks to DUCKIE and at times the audience is soothing and reassuring- a bit like having Judy Dench voicing your bedtime story. The rest is simply the gorgeous baritone voice of Le Gateau Chocolat which is like having your senses bathed in warm chocolate fondant. The songs often tweaked to fit the story range from Disney classics through to The Pussycat Dolls Don’t cha and La Cage Aux Folles I am what I am to Cyndi Laupers Girls just want to have fun. 

Visually the set is deceptively simple but with dressing up clothes tucked away and bright umbrellas popping out it holds gems of surprise.  The lighting design is magical and reminds me of the country village circus tours of my childhood. Throughout his costume changes there is always the fluid physicality, warmly, gleaming eyes and glittery lips. This is a performer who is totally at ease with his audience, both young and simply young at heart. It would be hard not to be drawn into DUCKIE’S world and empathise with his plight. 

When the insults come increasingly thick and fast and the voicing of them sounds more and more like children the true dark background to the story shines through. DUCKIE is rendered small, wounded  and vulnerable as he looks out in confusion at a world that will not let him belong. His salvation through a beautifully rendered little mouse is touching and ensures a fairytale happy ending. We shun or ridicule what is “ugly” not because it’s ugly but simply because it is different. DUCKIE delivers a message of acceptance and tolerance that resonates with adults and sews a seed in young children that hopefully blossoms in every new generation. 

CONTACT 24-25 OCTOBER