If you’ve seen our past few Christmas shows, you’ll know that they are bonkers, beautiful, anarchic and never really what you expect. However, to attract new audiences, we face a problem; “children’s’ theatre” and “family theatre” being used synonymously makes Christmas marketing trickier.
Children’s theatre is, unsurprisingly, a type of theatre created specifically for children. Within this genre you’ll find shows tailored for children from toddler age up until six or so. Across the country you’ll find companies specialising in these types of shows – our lovely Christmas venue, The North Wall, run a cracking takeover day with shows and activities aimed at children under eight (it’s coming up in October, do check it out).
Here at Creation, we don’t make children’s theatre. We make family theatre. What’s the difference, you ask?
Family theatre is when you’re able to sneak a reference to The Silence of the Lambs into The Wind in the Willows – it goes over the heads of the smaller audience members but parents chuckle. Family productions are productions that are not afraid of scaring an audience when the story calls for it; not a Woman in Black type scare, but a “hide-behind-the-sofa-and-giggle-nervously” scare. Family theatre is a show where there is something for a seven year old to laugh at, and something for the grandparents to laugh at. A family show is one you could host a tenth birthday party at in matinee performances, but see grownups laughing away at an evening show.
To make family theatre you have to be aware that parents are people too, people who want to enjoy the two hours in the auditorium as much as their children do.
Many classic texts which have been designated as “children’s literature” are far more adult than their reputations suggest. Stevenson’s Treasure Island features one very complex villain and some to-the-death fights. The Wind in the Willows rhapsodises on Paganism and Nature. Fairy tales feature homicidal parents, bloodthirsty wolves, witches, curses, poisons, more homicidal parents, evil shoes, and people getting their comeuppance in very nasty ways. Yet all three of these have become magical Christmas shows – it’s about balancing the dark with the light, the horror with hilarity and engaging everyone in the auditorium with the story.
With A Christmas Carol as our show this year, we’re thinking about morality, mortality and all sorts of Victorian nastiness, the kind you’d find in a Horrible Histories book. A Christmas Carol is a story brimming with joy and good humour yet at the same time is incredibly dark – watching a man be confronted with his own sins doesn’t scream family Christmas outing. Our production aims to show all facets of the book, balancing the humour and the terror as Dickens does (okay, so our version might be a tad more eccentric than Dickens’ original, but still, the balance is there).
When booking a family theatre show, it does all depend on the children in your party. As the success of Horrible Histories shows, lot of children like things a bit ghoulish (I certainly did), but then again, some don’t, and that’s okay. A great moment in all our family shows is when you see a child simultaneously hooked to the story but realising somewhere, deep down, it’s all smoke and mirrors. During last year’s Snow White, a six year old in our audience stayed back so we could explain how we used trapdoors to show Red Riding Hood getting eaten – the magic is still there, but it’s now attainable magic.
Let’s end by going back to Horrible Histories. The success of the BBC show proves that when creating something for children, don’t patronise them – humour can be both irreverent and intelligent, and children and adults both laugh.
P.S Check out our guide to taking kids to the theatre – full of handy tips!