How To Be A Kid

Reviewed by Flossie Waite
A Paines Plough, Orange Tree Theatre and Theatr Clwyd co-production
Playing at Orange Tree Theatre until 3rd March 2018
For ages 7+

Molly wants things to go back to normal. Since Nan died, Mum’s been crying in bed all the time, and Molly’s spent 5 weeks and 1 day in care. Now she’s back home, she doesn’t fit like she used to, she still has to take care of her little brother Joe, and she really misses her new best friend Taylor back at the children’s home. Sarah McDonald-Hughes’ play is about children forced to grow up too fast; being a carer and being in care.

There’s neither set nor props in Paines Plough’s production, just three performers, a fantastic lighting design, and convincing physical storytelling (particularly impressive is the portrayal of the siblings’ daily routine as they battle to look after themselves without their mum; what starts off slick becomes increasingly frantic and overwhelming).

Molly and Joe’s resilience as they try to cope with their messy situation is undeniably moving, but in the end the play’s conclusion quickly tidies all their problems away: their mother suddenly reverts back to stable parenting, with the questionable suggestion that, like the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy, Molly had the key to fixing her all along.

Most distracting is the show’s childish rather than childlike performance of young people as the adult actors grapple with how to be a kid. With her open-palmed hands, wide eyes and high voice troubling over each word, 12-year-old Molly seems much closer to her brother’s age of 6, though at times both act even younger than that, at odds with the capability and competence the characters demonstrate. At the other end of the spectrum is Taylor, who Molly accurately describes as ‘magical’: she is unbelievably knowing, conveniently dispensing sage wisdom as a sort-of fairy godmother type. With its talk of Taylor Swift and Maccy D’s, the production tries to tap into the interests of its young audience, but ultimately struggles to convincingly speak their language.

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.


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