Review written by Flossie Waite
A Unicorn and Theatr Iolo Production (in association with Sarah Argent)
9th December – 4th January 2015
For ages 6 – 18 months
Anyone who has spent Christmas with a baby knows that for them, the presents are beside the point – opening them is the real fun (when I was little, my mum wrapped up random objects because I enjoyed ripping off the paper so much). Scrunch is a sensory production exploring the best bits of Christmas when you’re really little. It’s wonderful as a stand-alone performance, but it’s the packaging that makes it an extra special Christmas treat.
There’s often so much more to a good children’s theatre experience than just sitting down and watching a play. From dressing up boxes and toys in the foyer, to workshops and activities post-show, to ensuring enough toilets and suitable space for buggies: as a reviewer, I’ve always made the decision to concentrate on the piece itself. This time, however, I think Unicorn Theatre and the creators of Scrunch deserve a mention for going above and beyond to accommodate and welcome the audience. It felt like an extension of the piece itself, guiding parents and their very young children through one of their earliest experiences of theatre together.
The audience are welcomed into a dedicated space, away from the hustle and bustle of the main foyer, where children can roam a bit more freely and adults can grab a tea and a mince pie; there are baby changing facilities and plenty of room for pushchairs. Aware that this may be a first theatre visit with their baby for some, director Sarah Argent reassures everyone that that they can move spaces or leave if they need to, that little ones can giggle and gurgle as much as they want, and understands (unlike Claridge’s) that babies may need to be fed during the performance, which is okay too.
Ushered into a white winter wonderland, everyone settles onto a floor of duvets and pillows, while the sole performer Kevin Lewis rocks a doll baby to sleep before carefully putting it into a cradle. Chris Wiegand’s review in The Guardian perfectly describes the effect this has: “For a few beats you think the story will revolve around the baby but this recognizable ritual, and the sense that someone is sleeping in the room, serves to set the show’s gentle, hushed tone.” As the doorbell rings, cards and packages begin to arrive which provide endless gentle fun – envelopes for playing peepo, wrapping for ripping, paper strips to make hair. Lewis isn’t afraid to repeat each action and take his time, the silliness only becoming funnier.
Scrunch is just as great theatre should be – it feels very live and very personal. Lewis turns to make sure everyone gets a good look at what he’s doing, with lots of eye contact; he’s so hardworking, constantly responding to the reactions in the room. He takes the stripes of his new socks and the red of his gift bag and picks out the stripes and red in the audience. One particularly big parcel contains a polar bear, which says hello to each of the 16 babies.
The 25minute performance naturally becomes a play session, with enough paper and packaging for everyone to join in. As Kevin Lewis and Sarah Argent interact with individual children, parents start chatting, and the babies enjoy exploring and making new friends, this is a festive reminder that the best things at Christmas aren’t necessarily gift-wrapped.
Image by Manuel Harlan
Why not check out Ben Fletcher-Watson on Twitter @bfletcherwatson – he’s doing an online advent calendar of tips for taking babies to the theatre!
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