By Jim Rastall, Artistic Director and Apples & Pears Ambassador
It was a grey day in March but my mood was bright because I was accompanying children from five London schools to see Fabletop Theatre’s play ‘The Girl and the Box’. This performance marked the start of a new Apples & Pears partnership with the Blue Elephant Theatre to give school children from Southwark the opportunity to experience live performances which inspire their imaginations.
I’d never set foot in the Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell before but as soon as I did, I knew it was exactly the right place to launch the new theatre programme. Reminiscent of Wimbledon’s magical Polka Theatre, a Mecca for family theatre connoisseurs, the Blue Elephant is a lovely place that feels like a home. We were warmly welcomed by joint artistic directors Niamh de Valera and Jo Sadler-Lovett.
As we chatted the room filled up, the background chatter grew louder and the pre-show buzz of anticipation kicked in. Many of the children had never been to the theatre before and there was a huge sense of suspense. Now it was up to Fabletop Theatre to inspire them!
The Girl and the Box was devised by Fabletop Theatre Company and follows a young girl’s journey back to being herself after the death of her father. In an attempt to rid herself of her unwanted pain, she agrees to give all her emotions to a cloaked stranger. To no-one’s surprise – but everyone’s delight- it turns out this suspicious character is up to no good. Soon realising that a life without any feeling is no life at all, our heroine embarks on a quest to track down the cloaked stranger and reclaim what’s rightfully hers, meeting many weird and wonderful characters along the way.
Of all the clever pieces of storytelling, my favourite was the cave sequence. The children gasped as the audience was thrust into complete darkness before a couple of torches gave us a glimpse of some hideous monsters. They were completely enthralled by the performance from Fabletop. Their use of physical theatre, puppetry, music, and even beat-boxing to vividly bring the story to life was a perfect example of the power of theatre to excite and inspire children.
Storytelling in all its forms can be incredibly powerful and theatre has certain attributes that make it particularly valuable. It can help introduce people to their imagination, recognise the value of their ideas and realise their ability to create something out of nothing. The Apples & Pears theatre programme means children are able to witness a group of people live out these ideas right in front of their eyes and it was clear that they actively engaged with the concepts and narrative depicted by the talented young actors.
One of the parents summed up the experience perfectly when he said, “It was refreshing to see a show deal with some of the bigger subjects that children’s theatre often steers away from. My daughter really understood the messages that the play dealt with and was very moved.”
I was lucky to be introduced to theatre at a young age and this has had a profound effect on my life. I’m hopeful that this new theatre programme will be life changing for some of our young audience too.
In fact, for young people interested in getting involved in theatre, there are many options available. A first port of call could be a local, subsidised theatre like the Blue Elephant. Many theatres in London run youth programmes which are free or offer bursary places. Some companies like the Blue Elephant are so committed to encouraging children to pursue drama that they provide a mentorship programme to support them on their journey.
On a rainy day in Camberwell, it was incredibly exciting to be part of children experiencing threatre for the first time and when we left the building, the sky seemed a little bit brighter.