Greenwich children’s theatre festival highlights announced

January often feels like a strange time in theatre, and that’s certainly the case here at Greenwich Theatre. Having enjoyed a hugely successful Panto season, with two sold-out shows a day for six days a week, for well over a month, it’s inevitable that the long period of striking the set, resetting lights and sound, and generally putting the building back to normal will feel oddly quiet.

James Haddrell, artistic director of Greenwich Theatre

When I took over as director of the theatre, the venue already had a popular pantomime, but the programming policy meant that for our family audiences there wasn’t a quiet month to sit through before being engaged again – there was often almost a year before the pantomime rolled round again and we had the right show to bring them back.

That is something that I worked to change as soon as I started, and I’ve stuck to that ever since. For our own audience retention, if we don’t engage with families through the year then we have no right to expect them to choose our pantomime again at Christmas. For the industry, without high quality family theatre on offer all year round there can be little hope for migration from family audiences to new adult audiences, and little hope therefore for our industry’s future.

In our response to that challenge, one of the biggest initiatives that we introduced back in 2008 was the Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival, a fortnight of quality family shows at Easter. Now, sixteen years later the festival continues, and this year’s programme is beginning to emerge.

One of the headline shows this year will be a new production of The Singing Mermaid, adapted from the book by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks.

In the story, the singing mermaid is lured away to join a travelling circus, with the promise of a life of excitement. The audiences love her singing but we soon find out she’s been tricked by the dastardly circus master. With enchanting puppets by Lyndie Wright and music & songs by Barb Jungr, this promises to be a perfect piece of theatre for 3 to 8 year-olds and their families.

Another famous tale coming to the stage is The Selfish Giant, inspired by the touching children’s story by Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s tale of a giant whose quiet existence is finally disrupted by the arrival of children in his garden is presented by Tiny & Tall Productions, the company that brought interactive family audio drama The Anarchist’s Mobile Library to Greenwich audiences during the pandemic.

I am always concerned when programming for families that there is something for teenagers as well. Often that age group is forgotten in family programming, so I’m delighted to be presenting ScratchWorks’ show, HAGS. The show takes us back to the final witch trial in England in 1682 and, complete with magic, music and comedy it seeks to set the record straight for the thousands of women falsely accused of witchcraft.

This year we also have an international strand to the festival, with Brymore Productions bringing their production of Artiste from Australia. Described as ‘Mr Bean meets the Mona Lisa’, this high-energy, paint-splattered comedy by Hollie and Sean Bryan follows a bumbling artist as he strives to work with the audience to recreate a ruined masterpiece in under an hour.

New shows are being added to the line-up every week, but with such an exciting headline programme I hope our loyal pantomime audience find ample reason to come and spend a few days with us in the coming months.

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