Love of theatre and performance starts early, so I feel some sort of responsibility to bring the magic of live theatre to the little ones in my life, early in theirs. The mystery and the magic may seep deep into their little souls, planting spindly tendrils before they even know it, and a lifelong respect and appreciation of live performance may be born. This means my sparkling mini-charge is going to be subject to quite a bit of musical drama over the next few years. It’s my duty really.
Miss Sunshine’s had already seen the Wiggles and been to a Playschool concert or two, but her first experience with me was Arial The Mermaid, a colourful delight at the Canberra Theatre. How apt – back where we started with her auntie, my M2, all those years ago.
It was a bit of a gamble to take a barely two year old to a performance that went for three solid hours, including intermission. Yes. Three. Hours. This could well be a catastrophe and two completely wasted tickets. This was a professional show at the best theatre in town, and the tickets weren’t cheap. I was prepared to walk away if needed, and notch one up for experience. To ameliorate possible disaster, Mum provided a dummy, snacks, and even a dreaded (from my perspective) chuppa chup for dire moments. As it turned out, we needed none of the above.
Instead my charge sat completely and utterly enthralled for the entire time with her eyes fixed on the stage, bewitched by the characters and the story. And when I say sit, I mean, she sat on her seat, on my seat, on me, on the steps in the aisle (because I’d chosen those seats on purpose), lay on the ground, and even stood upside down with her head looking between her legs, almost the entire time while picking my fingers and cuticles to pieces—but not once did her attention waiver or her eyes move from the action. And she wasn’t the slightest bit perturbed when the clashing storm came and thunder clapped outrageously loudly and lightning flashed and wicked Ursula reared her ugly head. Little Miss Two even sang grandly along with the songs she didn’t know. She cheered wildly when the hero finally kissed his girl and clapped madly as the performers took their final bows. In short, it was a triumph. What an outstanding attention span, and a grand show that held it undivided.
Although my own attention was equally divided between watching the stage and the reaction of Miss Sunshine, the show was polished, professional and thoroughly well done with strong leads and performers, great costumes, a magical undersea world, a great soundtrack, and a happy fairy tale ending to boot. What else could you ask for?
The show was produced by Canberra’s own Free Rain Theatre, a terrific outfit dedicated to developing young artists and talent, and who nurtured my own M2 for many years as she proudly trod the boards in her teenage years. I was also chuffed to discover the show was directed by David Atfield, the very same David who was the director of the fabulous Skylark Puppet Theatre Company and directed Charlotte’s Web show that had held my girls mesmerised decades before. It seemed like we were starting to turn the theatrical pages again to a similar story. Opening bars of The Circle of Life to be sounded here for effect.
Clearly we were up for more of this theatre stuff, and when questioned, Miss Sunshine was keen for the next episode. The recent school holidays brought with it a performance of The Frog Prince, a local show by Pied Piper Productions, featuring a band of well-practiced and word perfect kids who’d clearly been putting their heart and souls into rehearsals for months and who did their parents proud. Bless their cotton socks. And that oh-so-outrageously-cute little French accent of the starring Frog Prince. Who cares that it sometimes made his lines hard to hear. Never mind that the songs weren’t great or that many of the ‘jokes’ in the script toppled way over the heads of the kids (the target audience surely) and the plot predictable, it was a charming effort, and the work and dedication of theatre workers, kids and parents clearly on display. And no one seemed to mind that the stage lights mysteriously went out half way through the show —the kids didn’t blink an eyelid and admirably just kept marching on with their lines.
Almost the entire audience consisted of kids from school holiday programs, a sea of children sitting cross-legged in the church hall, with just the merest scattering of parents and grandparents on the encircling ring of chairs. In fact, most of the seats were taken by the carers of the school holiday programs. What a pity that I was such a rarity in the hall – one of the few grandparents there with the privilege of taking my little one to see this holiday fun performed live on stage before us.
I wonder if in a few years, Miss Sunshine will be one of the little ones on stage, singing her heart out and putting it all on the line.