LOOKING FORWARD ...
As we enter a new decade, let’s look at what’s in store and how, in the midst of a recession, things may shape up. Over the last ten years theatre for children has developed significantly – more productions than ever, more theatres making work for children a regular part of their programme, and major players entering the children’s arena. Who would have thought that the National Theatre would present a children’s play – WARHORSE – that would become a major West End hit? This trend is set to continue in 2010 when the Royal Shakespeare Company present a high-profile adaptation of Roald Dahl’s MATILDA, scheduled for a Stratford Christmas season, followed by a West End run and possible tour. Hopefully this is more than a cynical commercial opportunity, and represents a genuine recognition that children and young people are a major and vital audience.
There seems to be little slow-down in the rate of new productions planned, such as Tall (the Gruffalo) Stories’ TWINKLE TWONKLE and Sally Humphreys Productions’ GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU (from the book by Sam McBratney). And a number of revivals will hit the road, including Vanessa Ford’s THE HOBBIT and Shakespeare 4 Kidz’ MACBETH.
A new children’s theatre building will be opening in London. The New Diorama Theatre, near Euston Station, will be the brand new home of innovative company, Quicksilver, whose previous home is being knocked down to make way for a hotel to service the Olympics.
There seems to be a very welcome new spirit of collaboration. The TMA organised two well-attended meetings at which the commercial and the subsidised sector came together, discussed their problems, and seemed to lay down the ground rules for possible future joint operations. So Watershed, a commercial company, are touring CHARLIE AND LOLA’S BEST BESTEST PLAY, the production originally mounted by Polka Theatre, a subsidised company. And the original production was presented in association with the BBC. Last year Edward Snape for Fiery Angel, a commercial company, toured the Theatre Royal, Northampton’s (a subsidised theatre) production of THE BFG.
More collaboration between subsidised companies is also on the way. HOW COLD MY TOES is a co-production between Travelling Light, the Bristol Old Vic and Birmingham Repertory Theatre. And Theatre Hullabaloo and Action Transport Theatre are co-producing MY MOTHER TOLD ME NOT TO STARE. This must be a welcome development, even if it is instigated by financial pressures.
Collaboration on an even wider front may well come to fruition, following an initiative by Theatre for Young Audiences UK and the National Campaign for the Arts. They are attempting to create a Drama Manifesto, embracing every aspect of theatre and drama for and involving children and young people. They are ambitiously aiming for a consensus between professional theatre folk and organisations, youth theatres, drama teachers, institutions offering drama training and everybody interested in improving the profile and status of the work, and its contribution to tomorrow’s world. Hopefully this will lead to increased recognition and funding for the entire sector.
What else? Well, ATG’s acquisition of the Live Nation theatres is currently being looked at by the Office of Fair Trading. Whether or not the monopoly they will have on touring theatre will be damaging, I don’t know. But, from the children’s point of view, the merger could be a good thing. ATG have an impressive record in education. Most of their theatres have thriving education and outreach departments, something that, in the commercial sector, was unheard of 20 years ago. Hopefully, led by Julia Potts, ATG’s dynamic Head of Education, the Live Nation venues will develop similar strengths.
On a personal note, I look forward to adapting and directing the aforementioned GUESS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU. And my new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s GEORGE’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE will be touring throughout 2010, thanks to the ever-energetic Birmingham Stage Company.
A Happy New Year – a Happy New Decade to you all.
As I write this, news is coming through that the government are watering down their proposed plans whereby everybody working with or alongside children in schools would have to be officially registered and pay £64 for the privilege. Partly thanks to the campaign launched by Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo and others, authors and performers going into schools on a one-off basis will not now have to register. This surely makes sense. Nobody is against child-protection, but things seem already to have gone a little too far. The other day I went to a school in Hackney, where Anthony Pedley was performing his one-man show A TASTE OF DAHL, which I directed. To gain entrance to the school I had to show my CRB check as well as photo-identification. The school secretary told me that an electrician arrived the other morning, having been booked to repair a faulty light. Unfortunately, when he arrived, he couldn’t be admitted to do the job, because he wasn’t CRB-checked…
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