When I was very young my mother took me to see a live production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’, playing at the Umina Beach Community Hall. There wasn’t much to do in Umina. I believe there still isn’t but seeing live theatre as a child was an experience that provided much needed joy and excitement. More than that, it allowed me to first enter a world where you can begin to suspend your disbelief. It wasn’t like television or film that can create an absolute ‘real’ world for children (and some adults, truth be known) but can only be enjoyed from the distance behind the screen. Theatre forces you to accept that wearing that planter box really means you are a turtle, even though in three minutes you will be a bird, a snail or whale. Or it makes you believe that dogs can talk or that singing and dancing forest animals are the most natural thing in the world, all in three dimensions.
Theatre for children is one of the important foundations in activating imagination, especially in a society that does it all for you. Now more than ever is when you should give your children the opportunity to enter that world of make-believe and thoroughly entertain them and you in the process.
It was a delight to sit with my six-year old companion Emily and hear her laughter and that of the children around her at the Ensemble’s ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’. This is a polished and professional production with a quality ensemble that took me back to my own childhood love of theatre. It’s a clever and playful show that explores one year with the forest creatures, featuring best friends Frog (Stephen Anderson) and Toad (Jay James-Moody). There’s also terrific little cameos from Snail (Jonathon Freeman), Turtle (Crystal Hegedis) and Mouse (Lizzie Mitchell).
A piece of blue material and bang, I’m in the pond. A few leaves and suddenly, I’m in autumn. A rolled up backpack and zing, you’re a snail. The creativity of Anna Gardiner’s design and Shondelle Pratt’s choreography with Anna Crawford’s direction and musical direction and before you know it, I’m six again and reliving truly wonderful moments of the fantasy of theatre, its catchy songs and dancing, gentle teasing of our idiosyncrasies and a lovely tale of loyalty, friendship and adventure.
Children’s Theatre is often under-rated as an art form but with productions like ‘A Year with Frog and Toad’, there’s no excuse not to go to the theatre and start your children on a love affair with imagination and fantasy whilst teaching them some important moral messages about friendship. There’s colour, spectacle, movement and humour and this cast deliver a professional and engaging show that will please the parents just as much as the kids.
So why not include the ritual of heading off to see a great piece of children’s theatre every school holidays and if you can start with this show, you’re on to a winner.