Very happy returns for Spot

Spot's Birthday Party

Birmingham Town Hall

THE young actors who invited us to Spot's birthday party might well dream of Hollywood stardom or of becoming a knight or dame of the theatrical establishment but whatever the future holds for them they will probably never have a more important job than this.

Dressed in animal costumes might not be Shakespeare or Chekov but as far as the theatre is concerned it is just as important.

Spot was probably the first experience of theatre for many of the youngsters clinging to parents and grannies unsure of what to expect. Give them magic and the wonderful world of live theatre opens up to a new generation of future paying customers.

And the beaming faces and excited chatter as the children left showed Spot and his friends had succeeded.

It was certainly the first experience of theatre for my young grandson who has just reached the terrible twos, so it was undertaken as a review well seasoned with trepidation but there was no need to worry – he was hooked from the start.

The format is simple with easy to join in songs, one a variation of I am the Music Man, with the cast asking to join Spot's band and playing various instruments – with everyone joining in playing the likes of trumpet, drum and even a squeaking mouse – the mouse was a star of the show.

There was a song with actions - with quite a few children deciding their own actions were more fun – and a game of statues where one young girl was never going to win as every time the music stopped she started looking around to see if anyone was moving. Perhaps next year . . .

Discovering the magic and wonder of theatre

We had pass the parcel, a couple of ball games even planting sunflower seeds – which were to become a veritable forest by the end.

There was even a play within a play as the cast acted out a condensed version of Cinderella from Spot's Birthday storybook.

It is difficult with an age range covering toddlers up to primary school to find areas of interest to fill an hour that are neither too babyish for older children nor too old for toddlers and director and adaptor David Wood has done a pretty good job with a theatre show based on Eric Hill's well known books.

Young audience members were not really following the tale of Cinders but there was enough visual action and silly voices, particularly from Steve (Alex Bloomer) and Tom (Adam Ryan) as the Ugly Sisters to keep them interested enough to keep quiet and not fidget too much.

Elizabeth Oliver-Kirk gave us a sweet Helen with Jenanne Redman, who has worked extensively in children's theatre since graduating in 2009, gave us the caring mum Sally with Benjamin Wells as both the magician Marco – with a couple of decent tricks incidentally – and dad Sam.

The show though depends upon Spot and Matthew Tanner gave us a puppy everyone warmed to at first sight.

As a show it worked well with a simple set designed by Will Hargreaves and it not too long at an hour to breach the boredom threshold with plenty of interest for youngsters which was educational without them even noticing. The cast gelled well together and their enthusiasm rubbed off on the audience - mums and dads were happily joining in I noticed.

But the proof of the pudding is in the kids – and my grandson - and the rest - loved it. On a wet, cold, rainswept morning in Birmingham the childrens' faces lit up the Town Hall - and perhaps in a few years time some of those same youngsters will be sitting in some darkened theatre somewhere waiting for the curtain  to rise and will remember Spot and his Birthday Party.

It's a half term treat worth looking out for - and well done to the Town Hall for having the extra facilities for youngsters - such as an extra low second banister, boosters steps in toilets for little ones to wash hands and staff who made even the most shy or nervous child seem welcome.30-05-13

Roger Clarke

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