Box office-breaking, record-setting, award-winning, and critically acclaimed: child-friendly productions are ruling the West End, and have been for a while. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the hottest ticket in town, Matilda the Musical and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time share the most number of Oliviers for a single show (an incredible 7 each!), The Lion King is the top-earning title in box office history, and Aladdin earned a spontaneous standing ovation in the middle of an act on press night. Featuring long-standing favourites and exciting new arrivals, here are our top child-friendly West End shows to watch in 2017…
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
As the latest instalment in one of the most beloved and commercially successful series of all time, with legions of hardcore ‘Potterheads’ around the world, it’s unsurprising that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was a box office hit before it even opened. More shocking was the critics’ reaction to the show – any cynicism about the motivation for its staging was completely quelled by its quality. Receiving 5 stars almost across the board, reviewers didn’t just enjoy Cursed Child, but suggested it was unlike any other show, with the potential to transform theatre, with Dominic Cavendish of The Telegraph saying “British theatre hasn’t known anything like it for decades and I haven’t seen anything directly comparable in all my reviewing days”, while Mark Shenton in The Stage called it “a truly game-changing production”.
The reviews were fairly spoiler-free – #KeepTheSecrets, after all – so with that in mind, we’ll just tell you that the play is set 19 years after the conclusion of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and follows Harry, now a family man and overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, and his youngest son Albus. Tickets vanish as fast as you can say “Wingardium leviosa”, but this article, and others, suggest a few ways to secure a seat.
For ages 10+, Palace Theatre, Playing now. Buy tickets here
Aladdin has followed fellow Disney production The Lion King ,onto a West End stage, with many comparing the warm-hearted, gag-heavy, sequin-filled musical spectacular to a panto on steroids. Based on the 1992 Disney animation, the story may be familiar, but there are some new songs courtesy of original composer Alan Menken, and impressive tricks, including a magic carpet that really seems to fly through the air.
For ages 6+, Prince Edward Theatre, Playing now, Buy tickets here
Matilda The Musical
Matilda the Musical continues to take the West End (as well as Broadway, Toronto and Australia) by storm, with the production now as old as the prodigy herself (that’s five, if you’re wondering). Matilda is based on Roald Dahl’s story about a little girl with a big love of books, and her neglectful parents, terrifying headteacher and telekinetic powers. Critics have said that the production is actually richer, with a greater depth, than the original book – not bad going when adapting the work of the world’s number one storyteller.
Comedian Tim Minchin’s score and lyrics, and Dennis Kelly’s script, capture all the darkly funny gruesomeness, as well as the warmth and compassion, that makes Roald Dahl’s work so popular.
For ages 6+, Cambridge Theatre, Playing now. Buy tickets here
From Matilda to Gangsta Granny: David Walliams has been called “the new Roald Dahl”, with his children’s books every bit as anarchic, grotesque, human and hilarious, striking a balance between crass bodily functions and touching emotional depths. Gangsta Granny is Walliams’ most popular book, soaring straight to number one in the children’s book charts and adapted into a film by the BBC. It’s a story of cabbage-fuelled flatulence and pensioner-led crime – Ben hates staying with his boring, gassy granny, but the seemingly ordinary senior citizen has a secret, which leads to an adventure involving royal swag and a dip in the Thames.
The stage version has been entrusted to Birmingham Stage Company, who have produced countless children’s classics, from Horrible Histories to Charlotte’s Web, The Borrowers to Skellig, and, of course, many Roald Dahl titles. Walliams himself has called their adaptation “better than the book”, so it’s worth getting down to the Garrick in July.
For ages 5+, Garrick Theatre, Playing from Wednesday 26th July 2017. Buy tickets here
School of Rock
School of Rock, the 2003 film starring Jack Black as Dewey Finn, a failing rock star turned substitute teacher, spent over a decade as the highest-grossing musical comedy of all time (Pitch Perfect knocked it off the top spot), and its soundtrack introduced a generation of children to rock legends like Led Zeppelin, Stevie Nicks and The Velvet Underground. Now, the story has been reimagined for the stage by the thoroughly British and fairly establishment figures Julian Fellowes and Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who seem the last people likely to tell kids to ‘stick it to the man’. But, by all accounts, their adaptation really works, with the musical receiving rave reviews – the show is “the most enjoyable few hours money can buy” according to The Telegraph. No doubt this is in large part due to the cast of uber-talented children who play the classroom of students Finn transforms into a rock band. Celebrating self-expression and rocking riffs, head to the New London Theatre for this “big-hearted, family-friendly show”.
For ages 8+, New London Theatre, Playing now. Buy tickets here
But that’s not all! There’s also The Royal Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty which is playing at the Royal Opera House until March, Julia Donaldson’s What the Ladybird Heard at the Lyric Theatre from 5th July, Dr Seuss’s The Lorax which returns to the Old Vic this Autumn, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at the Gielgud, and, of course, The Lion King, continuing its almost 18-year run, is on at the Lyceum Theatre.
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