A darkened theatre studio comes alive as a colourful garden in this sensory show for babies and toddlers.
On arrival, each child is given a brown paper bag and invited to sit in front of the stage, surrounded by crafted trees and plants. It’s suggested by a recorded voice over the PA that the items within the bags should only be taken out when instructed to do so during the show. But of course no toddler can wait that long, and so they’re soon playing with the pom-poms and felt bees within, and when Aleena introduces herself at the start (also signing in Makaton), I’m not sure she has everyone’s full attention.
The performance follows Aleena as she tends to her garden across the four seasons of the year, and features songs, puppets, lighting effects, magic, and lots of props. At times it feels a bit too ‘educational’ and familiar, with sections on counting and colours that could come from any traditional children’s TV show or picturebook. Thankfully, though, for the most part it’s more imaginative and playful. The ‘sensory’ element is well and truly catered for with lots to see, hear, feel and even smell.
Unlike many other shows aimed at toddlers, this one doesn’t feature an open ‘play’ session at the end. Instead there are lots of points within the show where interactivity is encouraged. Whilst these are nice cues for involvement, the format does have the consequence that the pace of the show is a bit stop and start. An uncostumed stage-hand helps corral the little ones to get things moving again, but this adds to the sense of the show being more a craft activity session than a theatrical experience.
Aleena narrates throughout with a constant cheerful presence, sometimes breaking into song, and keeping good eye contact with the children. The tone doesn’t vary much though, with no use of silent mime or noisy surprise that can really captivate young audiences.
There are some lovely moments that do delight everyone, particularly in the final winter season which features tiny bubbles backlit to look like snow, and a crackling bonfire, with the audience snuggled up under sheepskin blankets.
Aleena’s Garden might not be the most memorable of children’s theatre shows, but is still a fun 45 minutes to spend with your baby or toddler.
Frankie is a freelance Creative Technologist and theatre lover from London. Follow Frankie @frankieroberto.