The Gruffalo’s Child at the Lyric Theatre & The Hungry Caterpillar at the Ambassador’s Theatre are 2 Reasons to Explore Theatreland with an under-5 this Winter.
I have two daughters (aged 8 & 5) who are at school, and Nancy, who is just two. Nancy has not known life without a school-run, and twice daily gets strapped into her buggy to drop-off or collect “the girls” from school. She seems to quite enjoy the routine, or perhaps just the after-school snacks. But the time between the 9am and 3pm can slip by extremely fast.
Nancy mainly spends her days at home, local toddler groups, or a music class or two if she is lucky. However, this winter we have broken our routine with a couple of trips to central London to go to the Theatre. We are lucky enough to live about a 40 minute train journey from central London. We have discovered that if we go straight from the school gates, and hop on a train at 9:30 (thereby avoiding commuters) we can comfortably be at an 11am performance, which is when most children’s shows start. At this time, the trains, tubes and buses are relatively quiet. We take a buggy, which you might think would make central London difficult to navigate, but with a little thought we always find a route without steps. If we do get caught out, it is never more than a few moments before someone offers to help. The rumours of Londoners being rude and grumpy are not true, or at least don’t apply outside rush hour. Walking is always our first choice as you can see the sights, and at the moment Christmas lights, on your journey. It is surprising how quickly you can walk between many of the mainline stations and Theatreland, and the streets are relatively peaceful mid-morning during the week.
Our first trip this winter was to the Gruffalo’s Child at the Lyric Theatre. A story Nancy knows very well, as do most children her age. We took Nancy’s three-year-old friend to the performance and both thoroughly enjoyed it. The Gruffalo has the potential to be deemed scary by younger children, but the familiarity of the story and the wonderful costumes and production means the little people are not afraid, but are on the edge of their seats.
Tall Stores first brought the Gruffalo to the stage in 2001, before the book became the award-winning bestseller it is today. They have gone on to produced four of Julia Donaldson’s books, including the Gruffalo’s Child which they first took to the stage in 2006. Tall Stories productions can be relied upon to bring Julia Donaldson’s stories alive, staying true to the story yet expanding the scenes between the pages of the original books to give the audience more of an incite into the characters they know so well. The story starts with The Gruffalo attempting to explain to his child, that he can do pretty much anything (including references to snot) but go into the deep dark wood, for fear of the big bad mouse being after him. Against his advice, and clutching his much loved stick man for comfort, the Gruffalo’s Child bravely enters the deep dark wood and meets a sly fox who attempts to auction him the audience, a cool latino snake who likes to party, and an owl who embarks on a flying lesson. When the Grufalo’s child is out-smarted by the mouse, and dashes back to the comfort of his cave and his Dad’s arms, the mouse kindly returns his stick man and all is well. The costumes and set are a beautiful reflection of Axel Scheffler’s wonderful illustrations, and the songs are catchy and accompanied by energetic dancing. This a wonderfully heart-warming production, which succeeded in holding the attention of our 2 and 3 year olds for the full 55 minute running time.
After the success of this trip, we jumped at the opportunity to head back into London to see The Hungry Caterpillar at The Ambassador Theatre with another two year old friend. This story is also a classic, which will have been delighting children for 50 years in 2019. The beauty of The Hungry Caterpillar story is in it’s simplicity and repetition, perfect for younger readers to join in and chant along. Three of Eric Carle’s less well known books provide a prelude to The Hungry Caterpillar. The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse opens the show, and introduces the incredible puppetry as he paints animal after animal, which then appear in puppet form on the stage, amazing the audience with their vibrant colours and intricate design. There was great excitement in the audience, clapping and cheering, as each puppet was eagerly anticipated. The more serene story of the Mister Seahorse follows, bringing a sparkling underwater scene, complete with bubbles floating out across the first few rows of the theatre, and host of sea creatures caring for their young. This was followed by The Very Lonely Firefly and more creative puppetry. Just as the children were beginning to get a little restless, a large moon appeared, and much awaited the story of The Hungry Caterpillar began. Children and adults delighted in seeing the story come alive, finishing with the beautiful butterfly that was the last of the 75 wonderful puppets on stage that day.
I would highly recommend both performances for ages two or three up, particularly if the child is familiar with the stories. The Lyric Theatre, where the Grufalo’s Child is running, has much experience of putting on children’s shows. There is plenty of buggy parking through a door adjacent to the main entrance, and buggies can be collected with ease on the way out. The Ambassador Theatre is far smaller, but a beautiful historic theatre nonetheless. Buggies need to be stored (folded) through a door opposite the entrance and this can involve a bit of queuing so it is worth getting there early. There were velvet booster seats available to pick up at the back of the stalls, so smaller children had a good view. The Ambassador is conveniently located across the road from the Ivy restaurant. Perhaps not an ideal venue for a post Theatre lunch with toddlers, so we went to Jamie’s Italian, just across Garrick Street from the theatre. Despite it being Christmas lunch season there were plenty of tables available and the service was attentive and speedy, so lunch did not disappoint the adults or the children. There were also plenty of other options nearby, including Bills and Carluccios. After lunch, a brief stroll back to the station, and a restorative nap on the train for Nancy, we were back at the school gates before we knew it, with lots of tales to tell “the girls”.
Lucy & Nancy and friends received complimentary tickets to The Gruffalo’s Child and The Hungry Caterpillar, but their opinions are all their own.