Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to the theatre. My mum always took us to the panto in Bournemouth and I’ve carried on the tradition with my two children. Over the years we’ve seen everything from the RSC’s The Secret Garden (fantastic) to Matthew Kelly in Peter Pan (not so fantastic.)
I first took my daughter to a show when she was two. We were living in a remote, windswept farmhouse in Lancashire at the time and I decided that Noddy, which was on at the Coliseum Theatre in Oldham, would be the perfect introduction to the magic of theatre.
Full of excitement, we took our seats in the stalls, the lights went down and Big Ears stomped onto the stage. “Hello children,” he roared at the top of his voice. My daughter was so overcome she burst into tears. After a few minutes of inconsolable wailing, I gave up trying to convince her that Big Ears wasn’t scary and we hurried out.
But these days my daughter is one of the keenest theatre-goers around. So much so that her Christmas present to her dad is a trip to see The Ladykillers at the Gielgud Theatre, while she’s taking me to the new production of She Stoops to Conquer at the National.
Yesterday the Christmas theatre expedition was on me though when we drove to Bristol to see Coram Boy at the Colston Hall. The play’s based on the prizewinning novel (above) by Jamila Gavin and we were so bowled over by it when we saw it in London a few years back that we were keen to see Bristol Old Vic’s revival. I know infanticide in 18th Century England doesn’t sound like the most festive theme in the world but the show is a fantastic spectacle.
Sure enough, the Bristol Old Vic did it proud. By the time we emerged from the theatre three hours later we felt like we’d been whirled through an emotional wringer. We’d witnessed heart-stopping moments of cruelty and wickedness and uplifting scenes offering hope and redemption – all set against the exquisite backdrop of a massive choir singing Handel’s Messiah.
The one thing that puzzled me, though, was the number of tiny children in the audience. The theatre advises that the play isn’t suitable for the under-12s but there were loads of far younger children at yesterday’s matinee. How on earth parents explained the dark themes (often graphically portrayed) of dead babies, hanging, the slave trade and much more is beyond me. I couldn’t even reassure my tiny daughter about Noddy.