Pros: An ambitious and clever concept. Outstanding performances; music and design combine to create a captivating production.
Cons: Although the lack of narrative is not a negative in itself, there isn’t much development throughout the course of the piece, which makes the ending feel a little abrupt.
Children’s theatre is often overlooked and undervalued. Firstly, it’s a very tricky thing to get right. Not only does it aim to entertain one of the toughest audiences (who will tell you mid-performance if they don’t like it, regardless of how good their parents are at shushing), but it also has a certain responsibility to do a little more than just entertain – to be intelligent, to test the imagination and inspire creativity, to introduce children to new things and help them process the world around them in a sensitive way. In fact, when you take all these challenges into consideration, it’s easy to see why ambitious and exciting children’s theatre can be hard to come by. However, Polka Theatre take on the challenge with their brand new opera for 2-4 year olds, Dot, Squiggle and Rest, co-produced with the Royal Opera House.
Opera is an art form that is often considered very adult. At age 23, I still feel very grown up whenever I go to the opera, so I was surprised and pleased to hear that this is an opera aimed at such a young age group. In the programme, Jo Belloli, Associate Producer for Polka Theatre Early Years says, “we believe they are a worthy audience now, as babies and toddlers.” I couldn’t agree more. However, I did have concerns about how it would work in practice. Would it be a bit too much for the youngsters? Would they lose interest quickly?
The answer is no. They do not. From the moment the first dot appears, every child in the theatre is mesmerised by the combination of clever design, operatic singing, cello playing and movement. The music is playful and interesting, and is perfectly complemented by the semi-verbal, animalistic sounds made by the performers (purrs and squeaks). There is no straightforward narrative, but the piece is visually and aurally complex enough to work without one. It is more an imaginative adventure for each child, than the simple telling of a story, and this seems to work better for the younger audience.
The three performers Sarah Dacey (singer), Zosia Jagodzinska (cellist) and Jasmiina Sipila (dancer) are excellent. It is clear they take their roles seriously; despite the fact they are doing seemingly silly things such as grunting like a pig or hiding in a cardboard box. This makes them very engaging to watch. From their facial expressions to the way they move around the stage, it is evident they have been trained in how to perform for children. They are lively and funny without being patronising and respond well to the numerous interruptions that a young audience will always bring.
Visually, the show is very stimulating. The lighting design is excellent, making use of an array of colours, projections and shadow puppetry to create a surreal yet beautiful and utterly captivating environment for the performance. I found it hard to look away; the children were agog. Shapes are also used well – pulled from the wall and folded out; they appear everywhere and endlessly fascinate the youngsters.
This is a beautifully atmospheric opera, which I imagine is the product of a lot of hard work and research. It delights its young audience, bringing out their sense of curiosity and playfulness and stimulating their imaginations. This is an ambitious project, which has been pulled off incredibly well – the perfect introduction to opera for 2-4 year olds.
Director: Joy Haynes
Composer: Elspeth Brooke
Designer: Michalis Kokkoliadis
Producers: Polka Theatre & the Royal Opera House
Booking Until: Sunday 16 August 2015
Box Office: 020 8543 4888
Booking Link: http://www.polkatheatre.com/whats-on/dot-squiggle-and-rest/performances