Again, another theatre trip! This week’s was a children’s production, at The Berry Theatre in Hedge End. My step-mother attended school at Wildern, so has been raving for years about the quality of the drama department. Recently, we found out that it is not only a school of performing arts, but actually has its own functioning theatre. We decided to go along, taking my sister (5) and our cousin (6), as they are both off for Easter. Our show of choice was The Emperor’s New Clothes, an old fable which we were all familiar with.
The cast consisted of a huge… Two people. This in itself was a bit of a shock; both me and Emma coming from theatre backgrounds, and me (as you probably realised by now), an avid theatre follower. I was intrigued when the frame narrative was introduced, with a lady and her… Brother? Father? Friend? Boyfriend? I’m still not entirely sure, but they opened the show with her excessive love of clothes, and her male counterpart’s less than impressive ability to keep up with the washing. This was a bit of a cheap way of introducing the story, drawing blatantly obvious parallels between the girl and the Emperor in the story. I know this is a production designed for children, but the frame narrative seemed excessive, and just a bit of a dead plot device.
However, the frame narrative allowed for two people to put on a full-scale production, with the use of puppets. This allowed the secondary narrative to form a sort of metatheatre, using the cliché of a play-within-a-play to forcibly extend the running time of the show. The Emperor’s New Clothes is quite a short-lived fable, so many plot lines were added to the mix to try and pad out the play, but instead made it a little bit messy and confusing for the smaller members of the audience.
The two actors did fantastically, all things considered. They managed to portray a versatile range of characters for the kids, as well as including a few musical numbers. The jokes were cheap, but the children found them hilarious, and there were one or two quips aimed at the adults too. The audience were encouraged to participate with the production, keeping most of the children fairly occupied.
My main criticism of this play would be down to the clarity of the storyline. As I said, the sheer number of plot lines to follow was a bit daunting for me, let alone a child of five or six. Also, there was no actual mention that the robes made for the Emperor were not real, and that they were tricking him. It was heavily implied, but some of the kids misunderstood what was going on, meaning that the main point of the fable was lost.
On the other hand, the production cleverly encouraged kids to use their imaginations. The entire production was set in a bedroom, and the audience witnessed the actors constructing their fake town out of furniture, and the use of puppets making it obviously make believe. This made it magical for the children to witness the set coming to life, and seeing what potential lies within ordinary bedroom furniture, something that is lost in a lot of modern-day theatre, as extravagant sets are often employed, removing the element of imagination.
I felt a bit sorry for the actors, having to run about the stage, playing multiple roles and having to rely upon a recorded soundtrack for the closing song, as they couldn’t sing the parts of every character in the scene. This took away some of the magic, and made some of the scene transitions clumsy and confusing, but considering there were only two of them, they did a magnificent job.
I would definitely recommend taking children to see a production at The Berry Theatre, as it is much smaller than most theatres in the area, and the productions are all aimed at children, making a trip to the theatre a bit less daunting for both parent(s) and child(ren).