It’s best to approach the ‘Roundabout’ – the world’s first pop-up, plug and play portable theatre – with a child’s eye. What is that white blob on the grassy rise by Theatre Clwyd? Is it an intergalactic mushroom, a giant beached jelly fish or a king-sized chef’s hat gone a bit squashy.
Stepping inside, though, is a bit like entering an early version of the TARDIS ….a high-tech theatre space with 600 individual LED light fittings concealed above a miniature amphitheatre. Around the rake sit 100 or so primary school children from Flint…and on the floor are three young denimed actors with no scenery and no props, but brimming with boundless energy and endless imagination. Their miming is so good they had their lunchtime audience drooling over their imaginary food.
‘How To Be A Kid’ is a slight misnomer. For the three children being so vividly portrayed on stage, it’s more a case of how to grow up a little in order to cope with what life has thrown at them.
Katie Elin-Salt is the king pin, playing 12-year-old Molly who is suddenly faced with new responsibilities now Nan has died and Mum is crying a lot. She has to cook and care for her annoying kid brother Joe, played by Hasan Dixon (as surely the lankiest 6-year-old ever) with an encyclopaedic knowledge of dinosaurs. Things go from bad to worse when Mother is hospitalised and Molly is sent into care for a while. But here she quickly makes her best friend ever, Taylor, played by a tousled Sally Messham (who also neatly handles all the other characters in the story).
The only way for Molly to cope is to take Taylor’s advice to become a Super Girl with a special red box in your brain to squirrel away all the good memories you don’t want to forget. Just tap your head to keep them safe.
Nothing is more fun for kids at the theatre than to watch grown-ups pretending to be kids – which the cast does superbly. But the story – with its flash-backs and leaps forwards – takes some unpicking. In cutting Sarah McDonald-Hughes lively script to time ( a little under an hour ) confusions creep in which inexperienced theatre-goers might find hard work. For example, it’s not entirely clear if Molly and Joe’s big adventure in Nan’s old car Vera, actually happened. And where does Nan herself pop up from. Is she a ghost or a memory?
The sense of excitement is priceless, however, and humour wriggles through the whole show as we are exposed to cute kiddie logic. Why do they build a top diving board at the swimming pool, for example, if it’s always closed off? And the repeating physical comedy is highly memorable as the actors mime the kids daily routine – which always includes Joe trying to avoid cleaning his teeth. Show me a child who can’t relate to that.
But there’s a wider, worthier, point to the show, succinctly expressed by director James Grieve. “Around 75,000 children aged 10– 14 are carers in the UK. Molly’s story is important because it represents the experiences of so many children who rarely see themselves on stage”.
So this is ground-breaking family theatre neatly parcelled up as highly enjoyable fun and games. Let’s hope it stays in the young audiences’ little red boxes for some time to come.
Visit www.theatrclwyd.com for bookings & information about Theatr Clwyd.