For Families Reviews

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

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.

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

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

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