Arriving for the end-of-term performance by drama group Kids’ Theatre Works! we witness mums pacing the floor, dads fiddling nervously with camera equipment and directors whose hands can’t stop shaking. It all seems a bit tense and serious for a kiddie concert, we think privately. What’s to get stressed about?
But, as we make our way into the auditorium, even we heartless souls at Time Out Kids begin to feel apprehensive. This is not your school hall with itchy-bum seats, a stage curtain hastily sewn up by Katie in form three’s gran and a lingering whiff of last week’s school dinners. This is the Ductac theatre, complete with proper auditorium and spotlights. Even more terrifyingly, the place is full to the rafters. If we grown-ups feel a fluttering in our stomachs, the performers, aged from six to 10 years old, must feel like they’ve swallowed an entire colony of butterflies.
The kids have been rehearsing The Wager – a moral tale about being honest – for three months. That’s not long and, if we’re being honest, we’re wondering if it’s all going to go horribly wrong.
Then, the most wrinkle-free grandmother we’ve ever seen (and possibly the only one still wearing braces) appears on stage. She is in fact 10-year-old Freya Crawford and, along with six-year-old Celeste Maawad, who doesn’t have to get into character to play the adorable, inquisitive granddaughter, they introduce the tale. Seemingly overcoming any nerves with ease, the cast of 12 launch us on a rollicking, comedic tale of intrigue, deception and morals.
Some of the kids have obvious dramatic talent and all of them put their heart and soul into the performance. Yes, there is a little prompting, and yes some things go awry. The audience’s hearts go out to the maiden who trips as she skips off stage, and to the guard, whose curly paper wig bounces and tin-foil spear glints as he marches on stage, looks puzzled, shrugs, and strides off again after a whispered, but rather loud, ‘Get off!’ from the wings. But these moments add to the whole charm of the show and, as the crowd whoops and cheers and the performers take their bow, the hankies are out to mop away tears of pride.
The kids are clearly pleased as punch with themselves after the event. Using our influence to wangle a special backstage pass we’re fortunate enough to meet the cast in person, an experience akin to being mobbed by a dozen bounding, excitable puppies. ‘That was fantastic. People were cheering and clapping so they must have liked the show,’ exudes six-year-old Skye Rose Grimley, who played a maiden and a flower.
Apart from the lead character – the poor boy John whose good nature and integrity are put to the test by his new master – the children all take at least two parts in the play. That’s a lot of lines to learn and more than a few costume changes to manage backstage. ‘What we do is look at the script and look for our bits. Then we read it maybe four or five times, cover it over with our hands and try to say it without looking,’ says Freya, explaining the technicalities of script-learning. ‘But once you’ve learned your own parts you have to learn the person before you as well so you know when to say your lines,’ adds Vishal Kumar, aged 10.
Celeste admits she struggled with this. ‘Sometimes I say other people’s lines out loud without meaning to,’ she confesses, her nose two inches away from mine. ‘I can say the whole play!’
What about stage fright? Were they not nervous? ‘When you go on stage it feels like the end of your life,’ says seven-year-old Sade Shonibare, still, we feel, in dramatic mode. Maria Goncharova, aged eight, explains: ‘Yes, when you say the first line it’s the end of your life but when you say your third line all your life comes back again.’ ‘And when you walk on stage it’s like your legs have no bones,’ adds Sade, determined we get the message of just how brave they all are.
How do they feel afterwards? On top of the world, naturally, although some have a few reservations. Taymour Kermanshahchi, seven, was worried about his appearance as a talking stone and thought ‘everyone would burst out laughing’, while lead Hugo Barnett, whose lines include an ‘embarrassing’ poem, is still concerned he may come in for a ribbing from his mates. ‘My best friend was there. I could see him and my sister. That put me off a little bit, especially when I saw them laugh. I don’t know if my friend will tease me. I hope not.’
We hope not, too. These kids – as well as the grown ups who instruct them and the parents who encourage them – are justifiably proud. ‘The kids come away with a great sense of achievement, a great sense of pride and self-worth,’ says Emily Madghachian, artistic director of Kids’ Theatre Works!. ‘It’s not just the traditional confidence building they come away with; drama builds an extraordinary foundation in life skills. The incredible thing for them is that they are learning accountability and responsibility. They’re working in groups, they’re listening to each other, they’re using their creativity and their imaginations in a group scenario and they’re relying on each other in order to make the show happen.’
Yes, there are challenges; never work with kids and animals is a truism. But Kids’ Theatre Works! ensures the children are well prepared for the task at hand. ‘While they learn that drama is fun, they also learn that it’s a job,’ says Emily, ‘a job that takes hard work and dedication.’
With thanks to performers Hugo Barnett, Freya Crawford, Maria Goncharova, Skye Rose Grimley, Ella and Taymour Kermanshahchi, Vishai Kumar, Celeste Maawad, Nameer al Shabibi, Sade Shonibare and Kayla and Mateo Vieujot.
Kids’ Theatre Works! runs drama courses for children aged four to 18 years. Find out more by calling 050 1585 653 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.