Reviewing children’s theatre, I don’t often have the opportunity to namecheck Hollywood superstars (this is the first, and probably the last, chance I’ll get). But did you know that Sarah Jessica Parker – aka Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City who just can’t help but wonder – called White “The best 40 minutes of my life”? It’s surprising I found her quote at all – so long is the list of gushing reviews for White, that SJP’s thoughts are at the very bottom of the page. After years of touring to countless countries and venues, and almost 1200 performances, I’m reviewing Catherine Wheels’ acclaimed show very late in the game.
So why bother? Because the production is necessary now more than ever. As the wider theatre world responds to Brexit and the ‘migrant crisis’, White continues on as it always has, and yet this production about fearing difference and accepting change speaks acutely to society’s current moral challenges. Calais’ ‘Jungle’ has only recently been demolished, with some unaccompanied refugee children bussed out to a temporary locked-down container camp, while others are left to sleep under the stars. The few that have made it to the UK have been met with deep suspicion, the young people widely rejected for not looking as we expect children to look. There are echoes of all this in Catherine Wheels’ production for 2-4 year olds. Cotton and Wrinkle meticulously clean and care for the bright white eggs in their charge, but a newly-received red egg throws them into panic. Against Cotton’s desperate protestations (“It’s just a little egg! It’s all alone, it has no one to look after it!”) Wrinkle successfully demands that the unusual egg with its alarming colour is immediately thrown in the bin.
I’ll let the many other reviewers who have seen this show since 2010 tell you all about Shona Reppe’s “highly imaginative and humorous set” and Gill Robertson’s “breezy direction”, how successful the stage trickery is (“you really can’t suss how the all-white world suddenly blooms into vibrant technicolour“) and that White is “beautifully acted“, “perfectly pitched“, “exquisitely told” and “a must-see“. But reviewing it now, in 2016, the thing I can’t stop thinking about is the end of this allegorical tale, when Cotton and Wrinkle learn to embrace newness and otherness and their white world is enriched with colour, their arms all thrown wide as they both shout ‘Welcome’.
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