Like many 70/80's babes, those variety shows were as close to culture as it got. On one occasion, I even took to the stage, riding on the wave of my new found fame as an impressionist on a local radio programme. Although there is no documentary evidence, I'm sure that I was terrible. In case you are interested, my repertoire included Tommy Ball 'Rock On, Tommy', complete with braces and moustache, a version of Margaret Thatcher's 'Out, Out, Out' speech, an attempt at tenor singing 'Save Your Love', Renee and Renato's no1 hit.
Any impressionist worth their salt at time (me included) also had a go at Frank Spencer from 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave' Em. 'Oooooh Betty !'. Remember ? Oh dear, I wish I could forget ...
Fast forward a few years, I attended a an amateur production of 'Philadelphia, Here I Come !', a Brian Friel play, as part of our Inter Cert English studies. A I recall, the play was somewhere in Rathcairn, Co Meath, also in a soulless sort of a hall, although probably better lit. I don't know if the performance was particularly good, but the lonely portrayal of the emotional dysfunctional Gar has stayed with me.
Fast forward again to present day. My social life in the last few years has mostly revolved around my children. Birthday parties are a great way of getting to know other parents, especially in the early school years and gladly accept invitations. But if the invitation says 'party in XYZ play centre', I
instantly feel a tightness in my chest. Little people love those places, which gives them the opportunity to, literally bounce off walls for two hours with their friends in a safe, secure environment. But the tinned music, cacophony of noise, unimaginative food, stale air, the over sugared children, the lack of natural light and that general feeling that you are on a conveyor belt when the untrained staff don't give a monkey's makes me want to run for the door (if I could find it). At least my children are older now, so I can push them in the door and zoom off at top speed, waving 'Later babes !'
Some children's film has a similar affect on me (SOME, I said, not all. There is of course some fabulous stuff out there. I'm a big fan of The Incredibles). But some films are just too frigging happy, too sticky sweet - I'm thinking of a particularly saccharine princess movie that I went to recently. I guess 'princess' should have warned me off. It was pure muck, the kids were bored, but at least I caught up on an hours sleep.
In the last 15 years or so, a cultural movement has been building in Ireland. It's happening slowly and without much publicity. Regional art centres and cultural festivals have popped up all across the country and with that, a range of top quality arts programmes. Many people were, and perhaps still are, cynical about these developments. I remember an early Tommy Tiernan sketch where he,
(perhaps reflected local thinking), describes his hometown, Navan, as a 'cultureless hole of a town', asking 'what would you want an arts festival for, haven't we got shopping centre ?'.
There are some fantastic performances on offer for children touring Ireland at the moment and I'm not talking pantomime. I'm talking quality professional performances. I feel that the word is still getting out there. I think that it will take another ten years for the sector to really develop audiences.
I've been at magical performances, where I wanted to go out on the streets and drag parents in, saying 'your children must see this !'. Attending plays with children is great fun. I love seeing how they interact without the adult self consciousness. I love their observations and how they interpret things. Question and answer sessions after a Theatre Lovett performance are a howl, keeping the quick witted Louie Lovett on his toes.
Earlier today, I brought my children to see a fabulous children's play 'Cake' in Riverbank Arts Centre today. Performed by Paul Curley and designed by Ger Clancy, it was a thing of beauty. A sensory feast. I could have sat looking at the set all day. It's clever use of white tubular piping to make a working kitchen reminded me of the construction of The Doozers on Fraggle Rock. (Dwindling budgets for touring theatre has really pushed designers to be clever about cost effective and easily transportable sets, while not compromising on the aesthetic and this seems to be the case here).
The crisp whiteness of the pipes contrasted with the brightly coloured 'cakes'. The audience engagement allowed every audience member to participate if they wished, to build a series of cakes. It was lovely to see how quickly and confidently the children set about the task, using their building block skills.
'Cake' was advertised for 4-6 year olds, but my two, are almost 7 thoroughly enjoyed it and I think that older children would too. We talked about it afterwards. They had a good grasp of the story and loved the audience participation. Leon said he liked 'everything' about it. Mya said that she would give the play '10 out of 10', then changed her mind and said '100 out of 100'. If I had one gripe, it would be that a cute 3 year old, and not me, was called on stage to answer the big white telephone with flashing white lights.
Children's theatre is for kids of all ages, especially grown up ones. Give it a shot