London is full of incredible opportunities to immerse your family into the world of theatre, writes Charlotte Marshall. For many, a trip to one of the capital’s children’s theatre shows when you’re still shorter than the box office desk can be the making of a lifelong love affair with theatre.
Taking kids to a show for the first time can feel daunting, but it needn’t be. There are a few steps you can take to ensure your entire trip, and not just the show, deserves a round of applause.
Do a run through
Knowing your lines isn’t just for the cast. Some savvy preparation with your child before the event can make all the difference.
A show is full of theatrical surprises, so you won’t be taking any of the sparkle away by familiarising your child with the story; just think how many time they watched Frozen without getting bored! Knowing the story’s outline can make it a richer experience for all.
You could check the show’s website for educational resources, talk children through the themes in the story or, if you’re seeing a musical, make the school run more exciting with a Spotify playlist.
Rehearsal is key
Before heading to see one of London’s children’s theatre shows for the first time with your miniature date, talk them through what they can expect. There are lots of exciting new experiences that await, from finding your seat to clapping loudly at the end.
Cover the basics so they’re prepared: from the simple fact there will be real people acting out the story in front of them, to explaining how the lights will be dimmed in the auditorium to let them know when it’s time for everyone to be quiet. Did we mention the promise of an ice cream in the interval?!
Dip your toe in the water of children’s theatre shows
If the idea of a big West End show feels too much too soon, try one of London’s many venues designed specifically to stage children’s theatre shows. London has some of the most innovative and imaginative family theatres designed with the littlest theatregoers in mind.
Try puppetry at the Little Angel Theatre or the totally unique riverside Puppet Theatre Barge, classic storytelling at Polka Theatre, edgy drama at the Unicorn Theatre or fairy tale fun at the Lyric Hammersmith.
Shows specifically for young people will always give an age guidance in their show information. Some West End musicals and productions may not, but are often suitable for older children. If there is no recommended age, give the box office a call and ask for advice. While you’re talking to them, it worth asking if they have a family rate.
Remember to trust you instinct too. No-one knows your child as well as you, so you will have the best idea about what they will or won’t cope with.
Worried your child is too young? Think again. Venues staging theatre for kids will often have performances designed for even babes in arms. It’s never too early to start a habit of a lifetime!
If your child would benefit from a more relaxed environment, Relaxed Performances are a brilliant option now offered by many shows and theatres. Designed primarily for people with Autism, sensory and communication disorders or learning disabilities, the show is specially adapted to be less overwhelming. There’s no pressure to be quiet or sit still and there will be a chill out room on offer.
The great outdoors
Theatre doesn’t have to be an indoor activity. During the summer, London comes alive with pop-up performances, street festivals and al fresco venues. Check out free theatre like The Scoop’s outdoor amphitheatre or the National Theatre’s River Stage Festival for shenanigans on the Southbank.
Children v Family
One last thing to get your head around is the term ‘family theatre’ versus ‘children’s theatre’.
In short, family theatre is designed for a wide range of ages and you may well see adults there without children (Matilda The Musical, for example) while children’s theatre is designed specifically for kids.
If you’re going to the latter, don’t think you won’t enjoy it too; the quality of children’s theatre shows in London is often exceptional, so you’re likely to be equally blown away by the inventiveness and creativity it takes to make art for kids. Inspirational stuff.