• Date:
    Thursday, March 29, 2007

    At the lower end of the theatrical 'glamour' scale is children's theatre. It's a genre which is often overlooked, lacks adequate funding and is sadly deemed a 'turn off' by many acting companies. But from my experience of observing children attending productions, the benefits to be gained far outweigh the costs - children of all ages are mesmerised by theatre and need to be exposed to far more of it. Of course it's not always plain sailing. I used to go to see a dancer friend during the panto season who had to duck an alarming array of missiles while performing! Thankfully for all concerned, the audience on this occasion were impeccably behaved.

    Tangram Theatre Company's laudable decision to produce a play for children, is a welcome addition to the calendar, particularly since it's on offer around the time of the Easter school hols, and runs conveniently in the afternoons. Tangram is a multi-national company, and their play 'Crunch!' was first performed and well-received at last year's Edinburgh Festival .

    'Crunch!' tells the story of the humble apple and it's involvement in the development and knowledge of mankind. So we start with Adam and Eve in the fruit-naming department of the Garden of Eden. Seduced by the serpent into eating the apple, Eve and Adam lose their jobs and are told they can only get them back if they find a particular apple with a golden stalk. During their search, the pair meet up with Sir Isaac newton, William Tell, the 7 dwarfs and a trio of goddesses from Troy. And all in a mere 75 minutes!

    As you might expect, this is a low-budget production - so don't expect anything in the way of fancy stage effects, expensive costumes or gadgetry. That shouldn't spoil anyone's enjoyment - all children have great imaginations which can easily adapt to even the merest hint of a costume change. And for the most part, the props and costumes seemed fine, apart from the masks for the 7 dwarves, which I thought needed a bit more in the way of TLC just to lift the reality factor a smidgen.

    When the play begins, a guitar-strumming John Hinto welcomes the audience and jokes with them as they take their seats, lending a friendly and warm start to proceedings. Hinto acts as narrator throughout the piece, and plays guitar to accompany the tuneful and well-written songs. And his scene as Johnny Appleseed also brought the most laughs from the audience. Troels Findsen gave us a suitably unnerving, hissing serpent from the Garden of Eden as well as a near-manic Isaac Newton. Johan Westergren coped admirably with the demands of being all of the seven dwarfs as well as Adam, and Sara Lewerth produced a fine, haunting ballad - 'Forest Nights' - as well as an innocent Eve.

    In general, the scenes were about the right length, though I felt the one with Sir Isaac Newton was protracted, and would have benefited from some judicial pruning - there were a few tell-tale signs of confusion and waning interest during the latter stages of this scene among the audience. On the whole though, the pacing is good and there's enough variety to provide a well balanced recipe of entertainment, information and education.

    Writing children's drama is a nerve-wracking enterprise because of the mixed nature of the audience. Obviously the children are the 'real' target audience, but with a near-equal number of adults in tow, their needs have to be catered for too. So, Tangram do use some words and phrases - "Tell us about the first law of gravitation" - which are well over the heads of the diminutive members of the audience (and, indeed, well over mine too). That doesn't matter too much - it's important not to 'talk down' to kids, and I don't think Tangram do. But it's also important to know which age range is being targeted, and some of the scenes here require some background knowledge which I think would have been lost on the younger members – the 4 or 5 year olds – though fine for those around 10.

    It's no wonder that many companies avoid children's theatre - in some ways it's far more difficult to 'get it right' than writing for adults. Tangram seem to have got it largely right here because the real test for any play is the audience's reaction. With 'Crunch!', all seemed to be entranced and engaged for nigh-on the duration - no mean feat if you're only 4 years old, and have to sit for 75 minutes. Most importantly, everyone seemed content with the conclusion as it all ends "'appily ever after”. Awwww!

    (Peter Brown)

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