The magic of theatre

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There’s a wide selection of children’s shows around the region this festive season. Theatre correspondent Nick Ahad reports.

Memory is a funny thing.

There’s this idea that when you remember an event, you’re not remembering the event, but the last time you remembered the event. Each memory is a copy of a copy of a copy, ad infinitum.

Which is possibly why a memory I’ve shared in these pages a number of times – the epiphanic moment when I discovered theatre for the first time – might not be one hundred percent accurate.

I’ve always said that it was at the Bradford Alhambra (true) that I had the moment where I became a theatre convert. I was about eight years old (also true) and that it was a stage adaptation of Prince Caspian and the Sea. That’s the detail where I think my memory fails me. I can’t for the life of me find the details of this apparent production that meant so much.

What I think is much more likely is that it was an adaptation of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, from the same CS Lewis universe. The Royal Shakespeare Company made a stage version in 1986 of the religious analogy – I reckon it must have been that version I saw.

What is absolutely indisputable, to my memory at least, is the moment the magic of theatre had me in its grasp. In the production, I was absolutely mesmerised when a boat came on stage. This wasn’t stage trickery or anything of the like, this was actual magic. A boat. On a stage. In the middle of Bradford. It was a moment that changed my life, a moment that I can trace back to as the genesis of my love for theatre and the reason I do the job I do today.

It was a pretty important moment.

Hopefully in the coming weeks young people around Yorkshire will be experiencing their own important moments in theatres across the region. This is the time of year that many children will be treated to a first visit to the theatre and some, I hope, will experience the same sense of magic that will create a lifelong love of an ancient artform that helps us express what it means to be human.

So what are the shows that you can take your youngsters to in the hope that they too will experience their own epiphanies?

About a decade ago the West Yorkshire Playhouse was catering for families and adults at Christmas, with something for everyone in the big Quarry theatre and something for older boys and girls in the Courtyard. These days it focusses on the little ones and, much as I miss the shows aimed at an older audience, I think it’s the right decision. This year, alongside Strictly Ballroom in the big space, the Playhouse will also be staging The Witches in the Courtyard theatre and Rudolf in the space they call the Barber Studio (it’s a rehearsal room, but that just adds to the charm).

The Witches (December 2 to January 21, 0113 2137700) has lots to recommend it – it’s a Roald Dahl story, one of his darkest, and it’s being directed for this stage version by Skipton-raised Nikolai Foster who has worked at the theatre several times over the past decade and knows this place inside out.

Rudolf (today to December 31), on the other hand, will have some of the charm, I think, of the small productions that the Playhouse has staged aimed at a younger audience in recent years. I’m thinking of The Bear and Father Christmas, staged by the wonderfully inventive Pins and Needles. Charm personified.

Clearly many young people will experience theatre via the medium of pantomime in the coming months and that’s fine (and I’ll be looking at the region’s pantos in a couple of weeks’ time for Culture). We should remember though that panto is its own unique thing and the shows we’re concentrating here are pure theatre shows, the shows that will be a gateway, perhaps, to more traditional theatre.

In Cast at Doncaster The Twelve Birds of Christmas (December 3 to 24, 01302 303959) will give younger children a sense of wonder as the famous song is given a twist and is brought to magical life by the highly regarded Handmade Theatre. Well worth a visit.

Further up North, there is something special about a trip to Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre at this time of year.

Of course Ayckbourn is still the major pull, but a new production of Pinocchio (December 7 to 31, 01723 370541) is also mighty tempting. The first production directed by the theatre’s new artistic director Paul Robinson, adapted by the always brilliant Nick Lane, this also features new music by Scarborough-born, Olivier nominated Simon Slater. It has a lot of local talent to recommend it, but most of all is the wonderful source material and the story of the puppet who just wants to be a real-life boy.

In York the refurbished Theatre Royal is showing off its new surrounds with a promenade performance for three to seven year olds of The Mischief Before Christmas (December 3 to 24, 01904 623568). Created by the really lovely Tongue Tied Theatre company, children will follow two mischievous Christmas spirits around the theatre – it certainly has the potential to create the same magic as my own CS Lewis boat moment.

The theatre where perhaps you’re most likely to experience that boat moment, literally, is Hull Truck where artistic director Mark Babych is at the helm of A Christmas Treasure Island (December 2 to January 7, 01482 323638). He says the theatre’s Christmas shows are “all about providing magical adventures in storytelling. Our team creates that special bit of magic to bring familiar stories to life.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

Enjoy making the memories.

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A couple of weeks ago I shared in these pages my Five Golden Rules for Theatre Going. Since sharing my thoughts I’ve had emails saying ‘hear hear’ and have also been taken to task for my ‘snobbish’ attitudes during a discussion about the column on the radio. One thing I want to make abundantly clear is that while you’re at the theatre watching shows with your children or grandchildren over the festive period you have to remember that it’s your theatre. Enjoy it. Considerately. And always feel free to share your views with me on Twitter @NickAhad