What a fantastic time to be a kid in Theatreland!
Never mind the plethora of pantomimes, and the superlative programming year-round at the Unicorn and Polka Theatres, this holiday season in London, littler ones can also take their pick from:
- two Treasure Islands (at the National, with Arthur Darvill, and at the Arts Theatre)
- Room on the Broom at the Lyric
- Horrible Histories at the Garrick
- Stick Man Live! at Leicester Square Theatre
- Slava’s Snowshow at the Royal Festival Hall
- The Railway Children at King’s Cross Station (pulling in from 16 December after its award-winning run at Waterloo)
- The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe at the Rose, Kingston
Also for children, of course, are West End long-runners like Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Billy Elliot, The Lion King, Wicked and War Horse. And then there’s perennial holiday favourite The Snowman, playing its millionth (okay, actually, its 17th) consecutive year care of Sadler’s Wells at the Peacock Theatre.
Last, but absolutely not least, are the three productions below, which I caught recently and can personally recommend in this family friendly edition of my regular Theatre Diary. Even if you haven’t got under-agers in tow, this hat trick of warm-hearted productions will appeal to your inner child.
If you follow me on Twitter (@TerriPaddock) – please do! – you’ll be able to see my #theatreselfie gallery and initial reactions from every trip I make to the theatre. Scroll down to see the tweets for these shows collated below.
Andrew Lloyd Webber has reunited with his original creative team – director Trevor Nunn, designer John Napier and choreographer Gillian Lynne (now a sprightly 88) – to give his 1981 blockbuster its second West End life. Despite the doomsayers at the time, Cats, in its first life at the New London Theatre, ran to a then-record breaking 21 years (far exceeding the lifespan of most domesticated cats), becoming the first blockbuster of the mega-musical era and making Lloyd Webber, producer Cameron Mackintosh and many others rich in the process.
I first saw Cats as a child, growing up in the US, and while not my favourite Lloyd Webber musical (I like a story not just a scenario), it was my gateway to Joseph, Phantom and a lifelong love of theatre. Seeing it again after all these years (I did also catch it before it closed at the New London) felt like meeting up with an old friend. A wonderfully nostalgic occasion.
I remember a time I knew what happiness was,
Let the memory live again.
The musical has been updated slightly – the bad boy character of Rum Tum Tugger (played by Antoine Murray-Straughan) has been blingified and his song turned into a rap (which fits the lyrics reasonably well, though, pretty please, paws off “Mister Mistoffelees”) – and has found a new theatrical star in former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, now playing the role of former glamourpuss cat Grizabella that made Elaine Paige famous. Though she gets headline billing, Scherzinger is onstage for just a matter of minutes – but she makes the most of it, knocking out “Memory” with resounding power.
Gillian Lynne’s sinewy choreography (with some new tap editions care of Bill Deamer) and John Napier’s junkyard set, against the contrasting sumptuousness of the London Palladium, stand the test of time.
As for the famous Cats make-up, you can experiment on yourself with face-painting at the theatre before every show. Head to the specially designated “Jellicle Ballroom” down the corridor past the box office to choose your colours and design. The Funny Faces service is free, donations to the Cats Protection charity optional.
You can also view the exhibition of Cats memorabilia, take a #CatSnap photo or toss balls in the playroom. A great addition to the main event. Plus, children can see the show half-price Mondays to Thursday.
Cats runs until 28 February 2015 at the London Palladium, starring Nicole Scherzinger until 8 February only.
Updated 5 Jan 2015: Kerry Ellis takes over from Nicole Scherzinger as Grizabella on 9 February. The show has extended booking until 25 April.
The Wind in the Willows
Gardener’s World and Ground Force presenter Alan Titchmarsh makes a surprisingly assured (and surprisingly Alan Bennett like) stage debut as the Narrator, the only speaking part, in this dance adaptation of children’s classic The Wind in the Willows, which returns to the West End for a second year after its Olivier Award-winning run at the Duchess Theatre last Christmas.
If only we could stop the flow of time and dream.
Titchmarsh recounts the story of Toad, Ratty, Badger and Mole (narration care of former poet laureate Andrew Motion) as the dusty attic setting is transformed into the riverbank world and the foursome set off on their adventure around him. Everything becomes a toy thanks to The Quay Brothers and Nicky Gillibrand’s magical set and costumes (I want a pair of those butterfly gloves).
And director-choreographer Will Tuckett and his game company of dancers – led by Cris Penfold, Martin Harvey, Ira Mandela Siobhan and Sonya Cullingford as the furry friends – enter fully into the playful spirit. In multi-tasking supporting roles, Ewan Wardrop is a comic standout as the besotted and buxom Gaoler’s Daughter (as well as Otter and Chief Weasel).
Those crazy Potted Potter boys are back in the West End and this time they’ve got a girl with them. After Olivier-nominated success with Potted Potter and Potted Panto, Dan and Jeff are racing through all Sherlock Holmes stories in “just 80 elementary minutes” with a slight spanner thrown into the works by bubbly Lizzie Wort.
I adored this show in Edinburgh this year and can’t recommend it highly enough. Silly slapstick fun and hijinks. Nearly as much fun as interviewing the boys – here’s one I did earlier, in which they explain why Arthur Conan Doyle is just perfect for potting.
Two shows in one day? Why not?! Potted Sherlock is also running at the Vaudeville Theatre, playing alongside The Wind in the Willows until 11 January 2015.
For listings of these and other family-friendly shows, visit www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk.