Review written by Flossie Waite
A Unicorn Production in association with Theatr Iolo
Performances until August 2017
For babies ages 6-18 months
Lines of laundry hang overhead like bunting, a huge old-fashioned perambulator takes up half the stage, and over a dozen babies crawl and wriggle across the floor. Unicorn Theatre’s Baby Show, for children aged 6 – 18 months, is inspired by a line from Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood: “Nothing grows in our garden, only washing. And babies.” The love of rhythm and sounds and language that makes Thomas’ poem so delicious to read and listen to is here too. Baby Show begins with a lullaby, breaks into chanting, clapping, tapping, silly sound effects and experiments in intonation, and ends with gurgles and giggles.
Baby Show felt similar in some ways to Scrunch, creator Sarah Argent’s previous show for babies at the Unicorn. Her well-honed methods include a pre-show chat with parents, the actor settling an imagined baby to sleep at the play’s start to cast a magic hush over the room, a relaxed, confident approach to audience members toddling onto stage, and a stay-and-play section. Her creative work always takes into consideration the practical side of bringing very young children to the theatre, nigh-on guaranteeing a successful and enjoyable experience for its audience – there are no worries about what your child should and shouldn’t do, and there’s no potential for embarrassment when she or he ‘disturbs’ the performance.
Though the production is interactive, the children are too young to be autonomous collaborators. Baby Show has a special quality – this is ‘cooperative theatre’, which relies on adults to take opportunities and use their own imaginative and improvisational initiative. There are moments when each grown-up is handed a tool (a mitten or a piece of silky material) and given some time to play with their child; it is lovely to see the different ways adults engage with their child to create a roomful of unique, but shared, experiences. Isn’t that what theatre is?
Nothing grew in Thomas’s garden, but this garden is far more fertile – green garlands wind around the arched entranceway, a thick carpet of grass covers the ground, flowers are sprouting from every available corner. It is lush, and vibrant, and alive, filled with families watching and playing together – this is what children’s theatre can cultivate.
Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.