What?: I’ve never been a massive fan of theatre, largely because I take issue with drama that lacks realism. This is the same reason I don’t buy into the Lord of the Rings trilogy and why I don’t watch Eastenders. Kids’ theatre though; that’s different. I accept that realism is probably the last thing today’s kids need, so was willing to shelve my theatre shyness for the sake of my daughter’s right to escapism.
Devised and performed by dance company Turned On Its Head, Sponge is billed as ‘participatory theatre’ for under-threes, with ‘family interaction encouraged’. Great, I thought. A nice relaxing theatre trip where I can let the Bab off the leash to frolic with carefree abandon; popcorn in one hand, sponge in the other. I think I was literally just picturing a room full of sponges with a couple of people in costumes bouncing around helping the babies build sponge towers and climb into buckets. And I mean it sort of was – except without the babies, who were instead made to sit behind a flimsy foam partition that separated the audience from the action for the first two thirds of the show.
Now I get why they do this; I do. In fact one girl accidentally demonstrated why by wriggling out of her mum’s grasp onto the stage and promptly getting kicked in the face by one of the dancers. Obviously two dozen feral children running amok in a tiny studio while the actors tried to communicate a narrative through the medium of interpretive dance would be impossible chaos, but that doesn’t change the fact that spending half an hour desperately trying to stop an extremely determined 15-month-old from doing the one thing she wants to do while she screams bloody murder and whacks her head on the floor in protest is intolerable. How the bloody hell do other parents manage to make their children sit still? I don’t think Bab has ever sat still.
Anyway, while I’m sitting there tensely hunched over my child, hands around her ankles, not really paying attention to anything because I’m focusing so hard on not letting her crawl away, something magical is happening on stage. Now I can’t go into much detail here because, like I said, I wasn’t really paying attention, but I can tell you that it involved a lot of sponges and some kind of dream sequence starring a vibrating sponge monster and a ballerina in a sponge-speckled tutu, all playing out to the beat of a seventies funk track.
Hips were shimmying, sponges were flying and I was considering packing up and going home, not because the show wasn’t great but because Bab was doing my head in, when suddenly the male dancer/actor said the magic words: “they can come up here and play now”. Predictably at that precise moment Mary Quite Contrary completely lost interest in what was happening on stage, instead deciding to park herself next to a little girl in the audience who was too nice to stop her from eating all her popcorn. I did manage to coax her onto the stage at the end for a little wiggle and some sponge throwing, which she really enjoyed, but bloody hell I was knackered by the end of it.
Where & When?: Sponge continues its countrywide tour with shows at Stratford Circus on the 9th and 10th of June and ArtsDepot East Finchley on the 11th June. Little Angel Theatre runs an exciting programme of participatory theatre for children, with upcoming under-fives shows including Aleena’s Garden on the 15th and 16th June, Twinkle Twinkle on the 7th and 8th of July, and Christopher Nibble on 27th-30th July. Little Angel’s studio space is on Sebbon Street in Islington and is a six-minute walk from Essex Road (mainline), 10 from Highbury & Islington (Victoria, Ginger) and 13 from Angel (Northern).
Best Bits: If you’re the proud owner of a nice obedient child then this is a really lovely activity. The show is fun and innovative, the actors are great and the funky soundtrack is sure to get your hips moving. There were lots of tactile moments and plenty of audience participation, including one point in the show where the bloke got a couple of the kids up on stage for a one-on-one boogie, but if your child demands constant, uninterrupted attention and has ants in their pants like mine then this might not be for them.
Worst Bits: The bit where we had to sit still.
Facilities: Very, very limited buggy parking in whatever nook or cranny you can find to wedge yours into. You’re actually advised not to bring a buggy at all, but I mean come on. No idea if there was a toilet but one would hope so.
Cost: We paid £10 for me and £8 for Bab, but prices may vary from venue to venue.
Would We Come Back?: I don’t know, do I need this much stress in my life? I’d like to try another show but next time I might invest in some sort of Bab harness and maybe something to spray her with when she disobeys me.
Bab decides the rules don’t apply to her at Sponge, Little Angel Theatre, Islington