For Families Reviews

ANNIE THE MUSICAL: JUNIOR VERSION - Mad Hatters Music Junior Group

Annie, performed by the Mad Hatter’s Junior Group of youngsters between the ages of 4 and 11 was a delight from start to finish.

The story is a well-known one; poor orphan Annie hoping for her parents to come and collect her finding happiness in the end, but with a quite different outcome. This young cast brought an exuberance and freshness to the musical.

The beginning, with the cast in twos and threes taking it in turn to walk across the stage was greeted with applause by the supportive parents and grandparents in the audience.

The cast acted and sang with confidence. Dances had been choreographed well and the performers were slick and professional. They knew the songs and their dance moves and were able to look confidently at the audience whilst performing – not something you always see with children. I particularly enjoyed the routine for “Hard Knock Life”.

Ama, playing Annie, sang with clarity, confidence and a smile on her face. Most impressive was the song she sang whilst holding a dog on the lead - she didn’t miss a beat! She had good stage presence and showed that she could act as well as sing.

Astrid played Miss Hannigan, the villain of the piece, with gusto and a powerful singing and speaking voice. I look forward to hearing her sing jazz and blues at a future Fringe event when she is older.

Rosie and Jack as Rooster and Lily worked extremely well together as a comedy duo and the dance routine with Miss Hannigan was pure Hollywood. Rosie’s slightly worried look at the beginning was replaced by a big smile as the routine came to an end exemplified all that is best about enabling youngsters to perform and why opportunities like this are so important.

Clare O’Neill and her team of committed adult volunteers do a wonderful job working with the Mad Hatter’s Music group throughout the year to enable them to take part in high standard musical theatre productions. The youngsters learn skills far beyond those of singing and dancing. The team nurture and encourage all the children and I particularly like the fact that there are cast changes for each performance giving a greater number of children the opportunity to sing solos.

So ….. even though I was not one of the parents or grandparents in the audience I thoroughly enjoyed Annie and my thanks go to all the children who performed and all the adults who made this production possible. Well worth going to see for the entertainment and for the fun.

Viv Marriott

CARNIVAL OF THE ANIMALS - Buxton International Festival

“We are animals who have escaped from the pit in Opera House. I’m Nick, and I play violin.”

He does, and he plays it very well indeed. In fact all 11 members from the Buxton International Festival’s orchestra-in-residence, the Northern Chamber Orchestra, performed flawlessly in Saint- Saëns The Carnival of the Animals in partnership with the Fringe.

The Pavilion Arts Centre was almost at capacity for the concert, which boasted an audience ranging from young families to seasoned Festival goers. Although it had been celebrated in publicity materials as ‘aimed at young people and families of all ages’ there were clearly a few members of the audience who were irritated by the number of children in attendance, but neither seemed to phase the seasoned professional musicians on stage.

As parents of young children this was a welcome collaboration between the various organisations involved, and we felt it was great that so many families seized the opportunity to introduce their offspring to classical music. The orchestra themselves set a light-hearted and playful tone with their introductions, openly welcoming parents not to “restrain your children from applauding and cheering”.

The first 20 minutes of the performance were dedicated to introducing the various musicians and the instruments they played. Short excerpts from many well-known pieces were performed to highlight the sound and character of the different instruments, ranging from the clarinet theme in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf to a re-pitched version of Ravelle’s Bolero on double bass. Ably presented by Nick playing first violin, he also shared musicological insights to the different pieces and highlighted where echoes of them could be heard in the main performance. This was a very welcome and enjoyable introduction, and was very well pitched for a mixed audience of both experienced and novice concert-goers. Who ever knew that Saint-Saëns originally intended the modern glockenspiel part to be performed on tuned wine glasses!

The Carnival of the Animals itself then began, with each of the fourteen movements introduced by a verse from Ogden Nash’s poem read by Daniella Sicari. Our daughter greatly appreciated the verses, as they introduced each animal in a humorous way and prepared her for the mood of the music that followed. There were, of course, the occasional outbursts from the youngest audience members but these did little to detract from an energetic and engaging performance. The big ‘hits’ of the suite, Aquarium and The Swan were atmospheric and absorbing, while we were personally taken aback by watching the pace of the flute’s trills in Aviary.

The orchestra and narrator thoroughly deserved their double curtain-call, concluding an afternoon of incredible musicianship and light-hearted presentation. If the Festival’s aim is to appeal to younger audiences this is definitely the way to do it, and we hope to see such collaborations continue and grow in the future.

As this is our last ‘For Families’ review for the Fringe this year, we will leave the closing words to our 6 year old daughter. Having only ever seen her school orchestra, she was initially reserved about the prospect of an orchestral concert. Within a couple of minutes of it beginning, however, she was transfixed. She says it was “really good” and she “liked the pictures” in her head. There can’t be much finer praise than that.

Scott and Alice Allsop

HERE BE DRAGONS! - Babbling Vagabonds Storytelling Theatre

Not even the rain could dampen the magic of the Babbling Vagabonds outdoor performance as we followed Phil and Mark, aka Babbling Vagabonds, through the winding paths of Grinlow Woods on our way to adventure.

Starting at tables in the woods by Poole’s Cavern we were given small wooden discs and invited to make colourful amulets for our protection on a quest. Mark playing our hero, the vet, and Phil playing everything else then set the scene.

The vet wanted to travel, but was always called back to the village by the needs of the animals. When a dragon threatened, the vet was selected to be the village saviour. As with any quest he had certain items to help with this task; some a little strange but he took them all because, “you never know, you never know”. Our hero meets various characters along the way; all benefiting from imaginative props made by Mark and played with gusto by Phil, a man of many voices. As is right and proper in such tales each creature helps our hero overcome an obstacle enabling him to continue his quest.

Grinlow Woods is a wonderful setting for this story. Apart from the forest, which needed no creation, we came across the Lake of Lost Souls, complete with a poorly mermaid, played with great conviction by Phil. We travelled on further to arrive at the foot of the Mountain of Certain Doom. There we watched our hero, now reduced to the size of a wooden spoon, climb the mountain. The rain stopped and the sun came out as the dragon promised he would no longer eat the pets and animals of the villagers.

But this was not the end of the story. The vet set up a clinic for monsters. He had discovered that telling stories distracted them and stopped them feeling pain – but he had run out of stories so needed the help of the audience to write a new one.

Rose, the youngest member of the audience, set the scene with the choice of a sandy beach for where the action was to take place. With a little help from adult members of the audience, but mostly directed by Rose, Mark and Phil acted out the new story. This play is perfect for families but just as entertaining for those adults who retain the ability to be entertained by magical stories with happy endings. To quote an adult audience member, “This story releases your inner child and reminds you of the value of playfulness and participating in a shared story.” The faces of children and adults shone with rapt attention throughout.

Babbling Vagabonds are consummate professionals creating a magical performance of laughter, colour and imagination. Here Be Dragons is a highly successful marriage between traditional stories and pantomime. The audience even leave with gifts; our magic amulets and a quest story plan so that we can weave stories of our own.

With two performances daily at 11.00am and 2.00pm up to and including 24th July there is no excuse not to fire up your imagination and go along to join Babbling Vagabonds in Grinlow Woods.

Viv Marriott


What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing than with Goblin’s lively and creative interpretation of the possible backstories to the characters and nonsense rhyme ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’?!

The combination of catchy and varied original music, hilarious characterisations (with a huge range of accents for a two-person children’s theatre production!) and clever set and prop design combined to make this 45 minutes of unabated fun and silliness.

The audience were transported by the cat (and her talented live fiddle playing) to Nonsense World, where she hoped to teach the grumpy dog to laugh by the end of the show. Both children and adults alike took no more than a couple of minutes to be in fits of giggles as the fast-paced, energetic and warm playfulness of the actors swept us along. From toddlers to grandmothers we saw nothing but captivated faces.

The original music in the show is both well-produced and perfectly evocative of the mood the company wished to create. From a hip-hop potato to a 1940s-style song and dance routine, the songs and sound effects really transported us to the places and moods the talented team created through physical performances and well-designed costumes.

Within the arc of the production we paid episodic visits to a spoon struggling to find its identity, and a cow at astronaut school. Both sub-plots worked incredibly well and ensured that even the shortest attention spans remained engrossed from start to finish. Clever and nimble use of an overhead projector, along with well-crafted and inventive puppetry, made this a fun multimedia show that gave real shape to a nonsense nursery rhyme.

Our own children (ages 4 and 6) found the entire performance hilarious, and are adamant that both kids and adults should go to see it. We wholeheartedly agree, and encourage all young families to see this show ahead of its two-week run at the Edinburgh Fringe next month.

Scott and Alice Allsop

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM - IN THE PARK - Rubbish Shakespeare Company

The Rubbish Shakespeare Company's (TRSC) version of A Midsummer Night's Dream is a joyous romp that owes as much to Panto as it does to the Bard. Lee, Alex, Tom and Mark from TRSC are exuberant immature improvisers who clearly understand the mentality of seven year olds. The adapted text "I come from a long line of big Bottoms" was pretty much guaranteed to get a giggle with that age group and the audience participation using multiple water pistols to administer the love potion was also very popular. TRSC also reacted to events happening in the Pavilion Gardens with a running gag involving saluting the miniature train every time it went past.

Nevertheless , to their credit, TRSC did keep to Shakespeare's original plot including name based word play making jokes about the similarity of the heroine's names (Helena and Hermia) and the fact that Lysander does actually sound quite a lot like Lasagne. I am sure that the kids (and probably the parents as well) learned a great deal about Shakespeare with out realising it while rolling around laughing at the scatological jokes.

I often wonder how much improvisation went on in the original 16th century productions of Shakespeare's plays and I like to think that TRSC's performances may be closer to the spirit of the plays than some of the more reverent modern productions.

Alex Watts


The Tale of Captain Digorie Piper, who lived in the time of Elizabeth I, is told through a combination of storytelling and music, with opportunities for audience participation in dance and song. Captain Piper was a Cornishman appointed to protect royal ships from pirates after a spate of murderous attacks (the Queen’s bravest and most dashing sea captain, Frances Drake, was busy in South America). Unfortunately, after setting sail in their aptly named vessel, the Sweepstake, Captain Piper and his friend Richard Hodges decided to turn pirate themselves and became the scourge of the seas. Only when Drake returned was Captain Piper defeated and order restored.

Now all that is mostly historical (there was a real Captain Digorie Piper, and he and Richard Hodges did turn pirate), but the Consort also weave in the musical evidence for Captain Piper’s existence, by including the composers John Dowland and Thomas Tallis in the story. Dowland did write a galliard for Captain Piper, although Tallis probably didn’t suggest that Queen Elizabeth I send for Piper to solve her pirate problem. Each of the main characters has their own theme, which is played whenever they feature in the story (like the Imperial March in Star Wars, but with fewer instruments).

The instruments are all explained in their historical context, which makes them come to life. As narrator George Higgins points out, in those days there was no radio, television or wifi, so when ships went to sea musicians were an important part of the company. Founder of the Consort, Sue Snell, explained that examples of the viol, or viola da gamba, had been found on the Mary Rose. The recorder, familiar in mass produced plastic to primary school students, was revealed to be a bona fide Elizabethan instrument. We were also privileged to hear the unique sound of the crumhorn. This is a novel experience not to missed. Those who wanted to were taught Elizabethan dance moves and the whole audience joined in singing a song.

The members of the Consort were splendidly attired as pirates and pirates’ wenches, and members of the audience are recommended to dress up and bring their swords. All the audience members were entranced when the band of pirates came marching in singing to start the performance, but younger children who are unable to sit and listen to a story will find it difficult to follow. For slightly older children this is a brilliant opportunity to make history come alive, and to introduce them to period instruments and music outside the formal setting of a concert. They won’t have to sit still for long - dancing, singing and sword fighting are all included in the performance.

Pirates! The Musical Story of Captain Digorie Piper is on again on 22 July from 3.00pm to 4.00pm at Buxton Methodist Church (children free). Mr Simpson’s Little Consort are also playing their baroque concert programme The European Grand Tour on 21 July from 3.00pm to 5.00pm at Eyam Parish Church and on 22 July from 7.30pm to 9.30pm at Buxton Methodist Church.

Georgina Blair

THE RED BALLOON - Lucky Dog Theatre Productions

The Red Balloon is a French short film from 1956, the story of a young boy in Paris and the balloon which appears to have a mind of its own as it joins him on his daily journeys around the city. It’s a piece of Gallic whimsy which I recall watching as part of the Picture Box schools programme of the 1970s, and found charming at the time.

Lucky Dog Theatre Productions, in the form of actors Tony Carpenter and Philip Hutchinson, have turned the film into an appealing 35-minute show, in which Carpenter plays Pascal and Hutchinson plays all the Parisian characters he meets on his travels. They apply a comical approach to the source material, particularly Hutchinson, who revels in playing Pascal’s mother, a dog, a bus driver, a teacher, a priest and others. I particularly enjoyed his portrayal of Sabine, the little girl Pascal meets who owns a similarly sentient blue balloon – although he protests that he doesn’t want to play the role and looks ridiculous in blonde pigtails, it’s his most convincing character.

The third character in the piece is the balloon itself, which both actors operate well, while not entirely making us believe that it does exist as a character in its own right.

There is a looseness to this production – sometimes the actors break the fourth wall and puncture the reality they have created on stage – but the audience enjoyed this sweet, smile-inducing little show, a very agreeable lunchtime treat for all ages.

Robbie Carnegie

SMALL FRY - REC Youth Theatre Company

Monday 15th July 2019; the first ever Fringe performance of the Young REC-ers (ages 6 – 10). These performers are the youngest group of Buxton’s all-inclusive REC Youth Theatre Company.

In the tradition of the high standards set by older members of the company these youngsters did themselves, and the company, proud. Singing and dialogue were clear and easy to hear, well-drilled moves were crisply performed, the 22 performers, some of whom were carrying large, props raced around the large stage with confidence and above all, the smiling faces of the cast were testament to their enjoyment.

This play is set in an indeterminate time when rules are few: take what you want, trust no-one, money matters above all else. This place is populated by scavengers, predators and a dragon. Using everyone’s love of money the Dragon has a plan to conquer everyone. But then the Small Fry appear and easily outwit the Dragon leading to a happy ending in which the rules are changed. Snatching, grabbing and cheating are banned and trust becomes all important. A modern morality play and a perfect choice for children of this age.

The Predators, dressed in shades of brown and brown-tailed, were the largest group. They spoke well as a group and as individuals. Even though the group was large they remembered where they had been told to stand and each individual could all be seen at all times. The Scavengers, dressed in white, were slightly louder. Their moves showed off their winged arms with moments of stillness creating an effective visual impact. Loudest of all were the Dragons, shouting and stamping in unison, glaring round as if to challenge anyone to approach. A special mention must go to all three Dragon Puppeteers carrying the three large pieces of the dragon’s body around the stage; managing not only to keep the dragon together but also to keep it at the same height. The Small Fry, outwitting the Dragon, had the audience laughing through their clever timing, facial expressions and body movements. As with the other groups this was excellent team work.

The REC Youth Theatre have a productive partnership with the Babbling Vagabonds. Running workshops for children they helped make the dragon for this production and masks for the junior company’s production. The combination of green dragon with large black and silver wings, predators dressed mainly in browns, scavengers mainly in white, green dragons sporting scaly green face makeup and light switching between white and green gave a highly effective and cohesive visual impact to the production.

Claire O’Neill provided musical accompaniment with a variety of instruments, including ukulele, enhancing the action and giving the cast valuable experience of working with music. Thanks must go to all the adults involved in this production for providing costumes, lighting, sound and face paint. Thanks also to Kitty Randle and Clare O’Neill, directors, who run weekly workshop sessions for each REC company and have created something very special for Buxton. And finally, to quote the programme notes “a BIG THANK YOU” to the “young performers for their dedication, creativity, bravery and enthusiasm”. A truly joyous production – try to get along to see it. Tuesday 16th at 5.30. If you miss this there is still time to catch the final performances of junior and senior productions.

Viv Marriott

STOP NOT BEING SILLY! - Jackie Clementines

“Why are we here?” asks a philosophical Jackie Clementines as part of his show. “Because you are FUNNY!” responds our four year old son. It’s fair to say that if you can keep a four-year-old literally on the edge of his seat and hanging on your every action for 45 minutes, you’ve done a good job.

Stop NOT Being Silly is based on a methodical yet hilarious exploration of a number of rules that parents often tell their kids, which Jackie sets about debunking using an array of comedy and circus routines.

As an experienced street performer who sought to “bring the outside inside” through this show, the scale and polished nature of Jackie’s performance proved his skill. Indeed it would be easy to imagine him performing parts of this routine to the baying tourist crowds in London’s Covent Garden. Faced instead with an initially reluctant audience on an early Friday evening in Buxton, Jackie worked hard to secure the crowd’s participation. His self-deprecating and lovable character soon won over the three generations of one family spotted in the stalls, while volunteers on stage were drawn in to his slapstick presentation to make for a very enjoyable performance.

While the very youngest might have been a little overwhelmed by some of the sections of dialogue, the show overall was well-balanced and ensured that everyone in the audience began to question what truly was or was not silly. Indeed the awkwardness of some of the parental lies Jackie sought to address – the Santa Myth was a brave opener! – worked as an effective juxtaposition to the impressive circus acts that he used to dispel them.

Without giving too much away, our kids’ unashamed highlight was the finale that involved skilled balancing and machetes. I’m still not sure the feeling has returned to my arm from being gripped so tightly by a six year old!

Jackie evidently knows his audience well, and has a number of techniques up the sleeves of his bright orange costume to make everyone feel at ease and loosen up in his company. He’s a talented performer, and deserves a large audience in front of whom he would no doubt be electric.

Scott and Alice Allsop

SUMMER SONGS! - New Mills, Newtown & Thornsett Primary Choirs

What an amazing performance, despite the fact that the third performer advertised, New Mills Choir, was unable to attend.

The bad weather forced them to move from their chosen spot from the Pavilion Gardens Promenade to the Opera House forecourt, where there was a sheltered gazebo. This was a more confined space but it didn’t deter them in the slightest.

The two separate choirs from each school were conducted by Miss Fitzpatrick, who had begun the worthwhile challenge of training them over the past academic year. She and the children must have worked very hard to achieve such a high standard of singing and interpretation, the songs being accompanied by simultaneous arm-waving and-foot tapping. It was a joy to watch.

Their Headmaster, My Ashley Parry, explained that their aim is to achieve Arts Mark Accreditation, an achievement that is reached by “Putting the arts into the heart of the children’s’ learning”. This new project covers a variety of themes, including Song, Drama, Art, Film and Dance. He is proud of how far the children have progressed over such a short time.

The children themselves showed a dedication to this achievement, as each of the choirs were word perfect, with no reference to a script or other aide-memoire and relying entirely on Miss Fitzpatrick’s enthusiastic conducting. She told me that their next project will be to produce a video of them performing music such as Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” or other popular tunes of that era. This is a challenge but I’ve no doubt the children and their musical director, through their enthusiasm and dedication, will achieve the required standard in all the items for the accreditation as detailed above.

They are amazing and I wish them well. Thanks to all of them for such an enjoyable, high-standard performance.

Jackie Corrigan.