Pros: The concept is really different and the relatable subject matter is delivered in a very innovative way. The conclusion is surprising, topical and relevant.
Cons: It’s not gender balanced, and could benefit from more character development and a bit more variety during the play scenes.
Arriving at Normand Park I thought for a moment I was in the wrong place. There was no out of the ordinary activity for a sunny Saturday afternoon, no staging or seating being arranged, no one hanging about that looked remotely thespian. I found a sandwich board advertising Childsplay and a person who gave me some headphones and a lanyard and asked me to wait about for a few minutes for the production to begin. Once gathered as an audience we wandered along the path a bit and in an unassuming part of the park, the performance began.
Childsplay is a very different and unexpected theatre experience. The set is a shopping trolley full of props and costumes, the stage a park much like any other. The cast are five energetic and youthful actors who, through some impressive costume changes, speech and play provide the audience with an insight into how twelve year old children have played outdoors from the fifties to the present day. It is a mixture of historical facts, true life testimonial, fictional story and music delivered in an outdoor space amongst the general public. In fact, the children in the park (and some of the dogs too) couldn’t help but want to join in – something fun was happening, grown-ups were dressing up and playing games and people wearing headphones were watching them!
I love the concept – exploring the way children play whilst playing outdoors is a fantastic way to bring relevance to the subject matter. The topic is clearly well researched and the use of headphones and MP3 players with synchronised starts is really very clever and brings alot of depth to the experience. It is delivered with passion and energy, it’s very interactive and the journey to the conclusion is interesting and surprising. The action moves around the park, each area representing a different era, delineating the passing of time and a new decade. The audience move along too and are at times invited to become part of the performance, joining in with games or discussing our own views and experiences of outdoor play.
Whilst it is an enjoyable and entertaining production, there are several aspects that I feel let the concept down a tad. There is one female cast member – this means that a lot of the time she is joining in predominantly male activities – there are indeed two separate decades of football! It doesn’t feel gender balanced and traditionally games for girls are underrepresented. The audio track is interesting and dynamic, but it could be tied more closely to the action unfolding. I would have liked more of the story and character development of the five children to relate to, as this aspect was a bit sporadic and sketchy. Perhaps a few more of the games being talked about could be included in the action unfolding to make it a bit more punchy and buoyant.
I am really impressed with this production. I think it is a great idea and definitely an innovative way of delivering theatre in a public space. I would love to see this type of family friendly but purposeful theatre in my own local park (particularly as it is free to local residents!). SPID are on to a fantastic concept and I hope I will be seeing more of this ‘wraparound participatory theatre’ in the future.
Creators: Rachel Grunwald and Helena Thompson
Director: Rachel Grunwald
Producer: SPID Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 8237 1111
Booking Until: 14th October 2013