Opera North’s cautionary tales for children of all ages

If you happen to walk past the Opera North rehearsal rooms this week, the likelihood is you’ll hear someone shouting, “liar, liar, pants on fire!”

We are just putting the finishing touches to Cautionary Tales!, a music theatre piece all about the ugly fates which befall badly-behaved children and memories of Matilda, who told lies and burned to death and Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion, have come flooding back.

We’ve taken Hilaire Belloc’s brilliant and funny Cautionary Verses for Children and in the hands of director and librettist, Pia Furtado and acclaimed composer, Errollyn Wallen MBE, we hope we have created something truly special.

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The saying goes, you are what you eat, and the same is true of what you consume artistically. Most of the time, children are exposed to culture via a screen, far removed from the world of live performance. Music and the arts in general do not have a significant place in state primary schools, but we know that children derive immense inspiration from artistic experiences. So the battle is on to give the arts a more important place in children’s lives and it’s one we hope we are winning.

Recently we have worked closely with the staff at Little London Community Primary School in Leeds. Over a period of two years, we had a weekly presence in the school, integrating live music and drama into the daily routine. All the children were involved and each one performed a solo in a final event entirely of their own creation. Three years later those children and newer pupils moving through the school still regularly attend Opera North projects or performances in the theatre. Through conversations with the headteacher, Jill Wood, I know the school is a more enlightened and happier place as a result of this influx of creativity, and I’m happy to see Little London children continuing to have an enriching relationship with their local arts organisation.

Whether the children are participating or learning to watch others perform, there is immeasurable value in these unique encounters with the arts. That’s why we commission music theatre pieces especially for children – because they enjoy it, and because that enjoyment is the key to education. The rehearsal room is full of mad capers at the moment – four singers running around like crazy children, not to mention the cross-dressing.

The performance space is based on a circus big top, with the audience on three sides and very close to the action.

This is theatre up-close-and-personal that will mesmerise the very smallest AND the very tallest amongst you. Do come!

Rebecca Walsh is Opera North’s head of education.

Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, Howard Assembly Room, March 10 & 12. 0844 848 2727.