The tagline for Bootworks Theatre’s devised production gets straight to the point: “A show about bereavement for young people.” It’s part marketing slogan, part trigger warning for protective parents (as a mother, I had my concerns). In a society that’s still not comfortable with children’s theatre exploring darker or more serious themes, it also makes clear that death will be confronted head-on (as Suzanne Osten from Lung Ha Theatre Company said, “There are no taboos, only adults’ ambiguous ways of trying to deal with things.”) As it turns out, The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad deals with death in the most precious, thought-provoking way for an audience of totally immersed children aged 4+ and their equally enthralled adults.
Frank has lost his mum. He can’t find her anywhere. Embarking on a town-wide search, the story follows his innocent and charming quest to be reunited with her. Frank isn’t alone – he meets some delightful characters along the way who tell him their stories of things lost and found, and the young audience are given a central role too. They play detective to try and help Frank and his new friends; the opportunity to interact is relished by children who become utterly absorbed in their task.
The story is masterfully told by a gentle, funny and engaging cast from within ‘The Lose-O-Porium’ – a place where all the lost things live, and a safe space for Frank to explore his loss and consider where to search next. Doors, windows, cupboards and even a miniature drawbridge are magically and intricately used for characters to burst through and regale the fortunes of their misplaced treasures, though all the while Frank’s mum is still nowhere to be found.
The Many Doors of Frank Feelbad is a brave piece of theatre that deals with the truth of grief with tenderness and care. Any worries I had about the content of the play were unfounded, it simply confirmed for me how important, beautiful and powerful children’s theatre can be. I was of course interested to gauge my daughter’s reaction to the content: she loved the show but was determined to find out in greater detail what exactly had happened to Frank’s mum. And as for me, I was reminded to keep alive the memories of things I have lost.
Simone is a trained actress and has worked in the theatre and television. She has also run drama workshops for children. She now teaches in a primary school in East London and regularly enjoys trips to the theatre with her six year old daughter.