Monday, 8 December 2008

Heaven forbid I be late with a genuine reason this time. I have learnt my lesson Sally. Do you hear me Sally? Do you hear me? No. No Sally, not the face, please not the face, I didn’t mean….

A far-fetched scenario? Maybe a little. But let me tell you, she did give me a few withering looks going past the box office, like the criminally obese look at celery on a cracker. With contempt. Moving on, gather ye round I’ve a tale to tell.

Life in the Office of Box
Christmas is bearing down upon us, it’s the annual Octagon Xmas production and the theatre is revisiting the amazing Roald Dahl. Previous productions for those who are unaware/ ignorant/ illiterate (please circle one on your computer screen) were George’s Marvellous Medicine, The Twits and James and the Giant Peach. This time it’s the enchanting (enchanting? Please don’t picture me with shiny buckles on my shoes, cap in hand, wooing fair maidens. I really don’t speak like this in real life, but the word really seems appropriate on the page) Danny the Champion of the World.

From early word it’s going to be full blooded, plenty of drama, humour, fun, excitement! Can’t wait. Pantomimes are all well and good, but if you can have all the laughs and enjoyment, but with a solid story and more emotional investment, I know which I would pick. What child ever walked out of the theatre hoping to grow up and be in pantomimes?

“Really madam? Your little boy did? Excuse me, I just need to make a quick call to social services”.

But productions like this always fire up the imagination, the stories to tell, the characters you identify with, will they over come their challenges; this is the stuff that will ignite their minds.
Well who’s buying the tickets? Everyone and anyone it seems. December is chocca block with families and schools scrambling for seats. I picture children trading their cherished chocolate hobnobs for a matinee ticket. Anyone else picturing that? No, just me.

The Lights Go Down
One of the things I love about the Christmas shows are the sets. Last years was amazing, this year’s is even better. Look at it! The sepia colours that evoke nostalgia, all warm and autumny (yes I’ve decided that’s a word), it’s as close as you can get to a colour hugging you. There are several levels to the layout, and call me a big kid but I like an interesting stage that keeps your eyes stimulated and presents a variety of action.

Wham! We’re right into it from the start. ‘Danny’ is one of Roald Dahl’s stories I’m not familiar with, I suppose when you’ve written so many children’s classics some get lost in the mix. But what an opening scene, the music swell, prickles your senses, then search lights spread across the auditorium as the men hunt for something….. I can’t tell you how giddy I was watching this. Now, and as a child I didn’t like silly things, and I’m glad this show is not silly just because it’s supposed to appeal to children as well as mum, dad and gramps. What it is though is quirky, inventive, funny without resorting to comedy wigs and stupid noises. It is proper funny, as in cracking delivery from the cast, magical staging of props, animals and action, and just wait for the moment Danny gets in the car and drives to the wood to find his dad. You’ll feel like you’re bouncing on the back seat along with him, such an inspired bit.

Usually with shows, the only way to fully enjoy and immerse yourself in the experience is if the audience is totally quiet and observing the unspoken social etiquette of NOT SPEAKING. If not, then you’ll probably be sharing a similar experience to mine. During a performance of Once Upon a Time in Wigan - LIVE I had the sheer pleasure of sitting in front of a woman, the type who’s knicker elastic has long since slackened, who suffered from a conversational tourettes, barely a moment could pass without comment. The deadly atmosphere assassin I’ll call her (now there’s a play title in the making).

Anyway, back to the point, the opposite is true of this show. It’s the type of show where you can hear the kids say ‘ooooh’ and ‘aaaaarh’ and you want to say it along with them. But the true stroke of genius is getting the audience involved in the climax, it makes the end seem so much more important, I imagine as a child you’ll feel right at the heart of the story. That’s why I like the end so much, it’s inclusive and that can only be a good thing.

Standouts include Helen Kay as the head teacher; I won’t tell you why, just see it for yourself. Also….heck, they’re all good. And the chickens, and the baby….there is just too much to mention, I’ll be at this for days.

I implore you, grab a child, and go, go now, don’t think, just enjoy.

No word of a lie, as I type this a lady - I’ll call her highly valued and alluring, she’s just booked tickets – has imparted unto me that her children LOVED ‘Danny’ as they had just watched it this past weekend. No word of a lie, the truth I speak. I’d call that a sign.


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