What?: I’m just going to cut to the chase here: this was easily the best family activity we’ve ever done, and we’ve done a lot of family activities. So what made it so great? Well, as anyone who’s ever passed through its doors will know, the opera house itself is absolutely breathtaking. You could be heading there to watch a ballet set in a dustbin and you would still feel pretty special as you arrived through its architecturally spectacular Bow Street entrance and wandered its grand halls, but what it really boiled down to was what the success of every kids’ event boils down to: the level of organisation, and the professionalism and friendliness of the staff.
Judging by the number of buggies in the buggy park – and bearing in mind that this was an event for 3-10s so the vast majority wouldn’t even have brought one – there were a lot of families there, but because there was so much on offer and everything had been so meticulously planned the busyness didn’t feel overwhelming. We were, however, pleasantly overwhelmed by the volume and variety of activities on offer, from immersive stop-motion animation and a make-up masterclass to pointe-shoe up-cycling and conducting workshops, plus plenty of opportunities for singing and dancing in between.
We were pretty realistic about the likelihood of us seeing absolutely everything despite arriving soon after the start time and sticking around to the bitter end. A lot of the activities overlapped and we knew Babu would probably want to spend longer doing some things than others, so we chose a couple of workshops that we would all have been really sad to miss then left the rest for her to figure out.
Our first absolute must was conducting workshop, which began with a demo covering the basics of conducting and ended with a chance for each child to conduct a live string quartet by themselves. Now this was pretty special – like, a proper Kodak moment – and I was so impressed by the quartet for interpreting the kids’ vague hand gestures into actual, beautiful music. Babu was surprisingly good at it too; future Simon(a) Rattle I reckon.
After that we headed up to Paul Hamlyn Hall for Big Sing Sea Shanties with conductor Nicholas Chalmers, where we sang What Shall We Do with the Grumpy Pirate (in lieu of a potentially triggering drunken sailor) in rounds, tried out tongue twisters and even had a go at some opera. Then it was up to the Level 5 Amphitheatre for dressing up in costumes from the ROH’s actual costume department and a sea-themed make-up masterclass that Babu would have happily watched all day if we’d let her (should we have let her?!).
The queue for the cool but random making-a-model-pirate-ship-out-of-an-old-pointe-shoe workshop was half an hour long and snaked out the door of the Crush Room and down the stairs so we decided to give that one a miss. We were, however, patient enough to wait in line for artist Reza Ben Gajra’s stop-motion Animation Fascination!, where Babu was dressed up as a mermaid and manoeuvred two feet at a time across the floor to eventually become part of an ocean-themed animation (watch the video here – she’s on at about 0.56 for like a second, despite it taking around 45 minutes IRL).
Every activity completed earned us a stamp in our Staggering Seafarers Trail Book, which I thought was such a cool idea, especially as 10 or more stamps earned your child a special prize. We spent quite a lot of energy fretting about the stamps and how we hadn’t collected more than 10, or 10, or anything remotely approaching 10, but we needn’t have worried as the staff were nice and gave Babu the prize – a pretty cool toy telescope – anyway.
All in all I thought Family Sunday was absolutely bloody brilliant. A big, exciting, joyful day that we’ll remember forever and for all the right reasons, and an activity that I’ll be recommending to anyone who asks (and everyone who doesn’t) until I’m blue in the face. Kudos to ROH for showing everyone else how it’s done.
Where and When?: Family Sundays take place one Sunday each month from 11am-3pm. The Royal Opera House can be found at Bow Street, Covent Garden, WC2E 9DD, a two-minute walk from Covent Garden tube.
Best Bits: The conducting workshop was so magical.
Worst Bits: We didn’t have enough time to cram everything in.
Facilities: Baby changing, buggy park, step-free access, on-site cafes.
Cost: Under-18s £8, adults £10.
Would We Come Back?: We’re making this a monthly thing.
Disclaimer: we were given tickets, lunch and a goodie bag as freebies but my reviews are always completely (sometimes painfully) honest.
Babu hangs out with a mermaid and a sea captain (tbh I have no idea what either of these people were supposed to be) at Family Sundays: Staggering Seafarers, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.