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The first thing I noticed when we walked into the theatre were the stacks and stacks of books piled up high around the stage. I thought they were simply to set the scene of the library, but they turned out to be so much more. What looked like a simple set surprised the audience with secret compartments and hideaways for all manner of intriguing things. Little ladders, a golden egg, real milk that was poured into a cup, a kite chase that thrilled the children, and a Russian doll style book-in-a-book-in-a-book. There were huge white pages pulled out that became a screen, pop-up houses, and other treasures hidden in those books. I was amazed at how Danyah Miller could keep track of where everything was because she kept moving the books around and restacking them here and there. I passingly thought about how the pre-show setup checklist must be quite detailed.

I Believe in Unicorns 2105 at Vaudeville Theatre Photo Credit: Richard Davenport. richard@rwdavenport.co.uk. 07545642134

Books everywhere (Photo credit: ABA Productions)

I Believe in Unicorns is a tale about Tomas and how he grew to discover the joy, wonder and power of books. While Tomas initially hated reading, dreaming only of playing in the mountain tops, he found his world expand with books and he began to yearn for more and more stories. This culminates in a huge act of bravery that impacts the entire town.

This show was quite unlike other children’s shows I’ve seen before. Most shows pander to the children’s desire for a spectacle – lots of action, songs and dancing. While this production did feature some very well-placed media projections that were so beautiful I felt like I was watching an indie film, the show is really all about good storytelling. A one-woman show, Danyah Miller brings the audience into layer after layer of stories. It’s a bit Inception-like. We start off straightaway immersed in a story. We are members of the town and are attending the re-opening of the town library. Then into the story of Tomas. The story Tomas read. Back out to the story of the Unicorn Lady’s special book. Into the story of the town during the war. Back to the re-opening ceremony. Into the story of the Unicorns.

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The art of storytelling (Photo credit: ABA Productions)

It’s this aspect of quiet, deliberate storytelling that makes the show suitable for older kids who are better able to listen and follow the story. Both my boys were initially wondering when the songs/dance – the action basically – would start. Later I noticed that my 7 year old was still following most of the story, but the 5 year old was not always keeping up. Later I likened the show to a ‘bigger boy’ book that has little, or no, pictures. It’s not so much about showing you a spectacle, it’s about the spectacle in your head, in your imagination. This they understood. Some of their favourite books are wordy with almost no illustrations. The best images are in your head. I’ve never watched a children’s show that quite brought this out so well.

7th August 2014. London, UK. Wizard Presents opens I Believe in Unicorns at Vaudeville Theatre.

Layer upon layer of stories (Photo credit: ABA Productions)

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Pop up books (Photo credit: ABA Productions)

It is a poignant story. At times I sat just consumed by the story, waiting for Danyah to tell me the next line. Feeling the sorrow of the destruction faced by the town and the library. It’s almost not a children’s story, really. It’s not an adult’s story either. It’s a story to be shared by both.

It’s no wonder this show won the Argus Angel Award for Artistic Excellence at the Brighton Festival. Danyah was amazing, pacing the story, working the props, and bringing out the characters.

It ends with the tale of the Unicorns. I may not believe in them still, but I certainly left believing in the power of books and of good storytelling!

KidsFest 2016 is still on with 2 more shows to go – Little Red Riding Hood and Aliens Love Underpants. You can get your tickets from SISTIC. KidsFest 2016 ends on 14 Feb, so hurry!

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Disclaimer: We were offered four complementary tickets for the show. All opinions are my own. 

 

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It’s KidsFest time again! Every January we look forward to the arrival of a slew of quality children’s productions. This year, KidsFest is marking its 5th anniversary by offering six shows over three weeks. The line-up includes modern classics like The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson that have been shown here a few times, as well as a few brand new productions.

 

Production photographs for Room on The Broom,KW & NB Ltd, October 2014

Room on The Broom (Photo credit: ABA Productions)

Most of you would know about The Gruffalo and the Room on the Broom, so let me share with you more on the new productions.

Snow Child is a touching story about a lonely couple who built a small figure from snow, and wished so hard that the strength of their longing brought a magical snow child to life. It tells the story about family, love and the power of dreams.

A spin on the original story, Little Red Riding Hood is by the same creative team behind the hugely popular Hairy Maclary Show that we caught a couple of years back. I can still remember the Hairy Maclary song from the show, how fun it was, and how much the kids loved it. I can only imagine that Little Red Riding Hood would be just as memorable.

Olivier Award nominated Wizard Presents brings best-selling children’s author Michael Morpurgo’s treasured story, I Believe in Unicorns, to life. This is the only show in the line-up that is targeted at kids older than six. It’s probably a good idea to include such as show so that those who attended KidsFest when they were younger still have a show that’s suitable for them! I Believe in Unicorns is a tale of the power of books, and the bravery of a young boy called Tomas. Tomas loves playing in the mountains where he lives and hates reading and school, but his world is turned upside down the day he meets the Unicorn Lady in his local library. This production won an Argus Angel Award for Artistic Excellence at Brighton Festival and it promises to spark the imagination of both young and old.

Wrapping up KidsFest2016 is the wacky Aliens Love Underpants. With a title like that, I’m sure it’s going to be popular with the kids. Based on the story by Claire Freedman, Aliens Love Underpants is a zany and hilarious tale about Aliens who, well, love underpants! Except there are no underpants in space, so they come to Earth to steal yours! With stunning effects, madcap action, original music (and lots
of aliens!) this fresh and funny production will delight the whole family. Watch out! You just might laugh your pants off!

Tickets for the various KidsFest performances can be bought through SISTIC through the website or hotline (63485555). Prices range from $42 to $62. If you purchase tickets for two or more shows, you eligible for further discounts. A 10% discount is applicable when you book two shows and a 15% discount when you book three or more. You can also show your purchased tickets or ticket stubs at any SISTIC outlet to receive a 10% discount on additional tickets.

What are you waiting for? Go get some tickets now! They are selling out fast!

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*This post contains affiliate links.

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There are the old classics like The Enormous Turnip, Little Red Riding Hood, Gingerbread Man, and the children’s stories of that era. But there are some new classics that every child should read. To me, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson definitely makes the list as a modern classic. It is such a fun read for both kids and parents – so important when your kid makes you read it again and again.

The latest to join in on the Gruffalo fun is Alyssa. She loves it! Sometimes she calls herself the Gruffalo, sometimes she says she’s the mouse and daddy is the Gruffalo. It’s so cute to see her show me her terrible teeth and her terrible claws.

I decided to bring her and Ellery to watch the Gruffalo that was showing at KidsFest2016. I had brought Asher for the show years ago when it first came to Singapore. It was fabulous! The stage production brought out new aspects of the book that I hadn’t thought of before. I think that is when drama is at it’s best because it should be insightful and give you more than you could have gleaned on your own. Anyway, a while later Forum the Shopping Mall brought in the Gruffalo as well and I had brought the boys to catch that, but Ellery was so young he really doesn’t remember watching it at all.

So off we went for this year’s production of Gruffalo.

The actors have changed, but the magic of the story is the same. And seeing the Gruffalo in person is always such a treat. He looks so squishy and huggable! And thankfully not scary, because I’ve heard of kids who are scared of the Gruffalo in the book. The cast was playful, and there were parts that were improvised and you could see the merriment in their eyes. It’s good when the cast enjoy themselves.

The Gruffalo, the Fox and the Little Brown Mouse

The Gruffalo, the Fox and the Little Brown Mouse*

The show largely follows the book, but they give the Fox, the Owl and the Snake some very interesting personas. My favourite is always the Snake. He is hilariously flamboyant and so full of himself. I love that the same actor plays all three predators because you can see how well the actor switches roles and gives each character a unique feel. It’s more than just a costume change!

Most of the kids know the book so well they were yelling out lines when the actors feigned ignorance. The favourite is of course the mouse’s line, “I’m going to have tea with a…a…”

“GRUFFAAALLLOOO!!” roar the children.

The Gruffalo has his snack...or does he?

The Gruffalo has his snack…or does he?*

 

Twit Twoo! Mr Owl in his treetop house

Twit Twoo! Owl in his treetop house*

Alyssa and Ellery definitely enjoyed the show, and we came back to more G-g-g-gruffalo at home!

There are many more interesting shows that are on at KidsFest2016. Check them out here!

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Disclaimer: This is an unsolicited review. We purchased our own tickets for the show.

*Photo credit: ABA Productions

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The good folks at The Little Company have outdone themselves! What a treat it was to catch Treasure Island!

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Even though I was confident that the story alone would make this an interesting show, I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical about the lead role of this classic tale being taken on by a female. And I was wondering how they were going to bring the audience onto the ship, the Hispaniola. But my concerns were unfounded and the show was superb!

The kids were very excited to go for Treasure Island and had re-read their Treasure Island book in anticipation of the show. Even Alyssa was familiar with the words ‘Treasure Island’ after I read to her A Shapes Primer: Treasure Island a few times. On the day itself they even dressed to the theme.

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Their Treasure Island inspired t-shirt designs on their Tangram Tees

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A spot of Tasty biscuit sword fighting during the interval

The kids were completely absorbed by the show, and there were many humourous parts sprinkled here and there to lighten the story. They were especially tickled by the O’Brien and how he described his abilities and why he should be brought along for the voyage. He was the character that provided the most laughs. Even after we went home they were singing his “I have hands, I am strong” song.

Dwayne Lau, Ann Lek and Mitchell Lagos in TLC's Treasure Island

(L to R) Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins and O’Brien

It’s hard to say which was the main highlight – the cast, the songs or the set, because they were all so good!

The cast featured familiar faces that we had seen in other performances, and I was happy to see them thrown together in this show. In fact, several of them were my favourite actors from separate productions, so this was really a high powered cast that was put together for Treasure Island. Together they made a great team and each played their characters (some of them taking on multiple roles) with such aplomb.

Tan Shou Chen, Ann Lek and Erwin Shah Ismail in TLC's Treasure Island

Treasure!

The songs were fabulous! How else can I describe this? You really got to listen for yourself. “Life on the Sea” was beautifully arranged, and there was the wonderful number “The Coconuts and Me” by Ben Gunn (played by Kimberly Chan). I would consider purchasing a copy of the CD if there was one on sale!

I loved the sets too, especially the ship. You really felt like you were on board the ship with them. At one point one of the characters threw something overboard, and I expected to hear a splash! That’s how well they brought you into the story! From the Admiral Benbow Inn, to the ship, to an island filled with coconut trees, the sets were all very well done.

Dwayne Lau, Mitchell Lagos, Ann Lek, Erwin Shah Ismail, Tan Shou Chen and Kimberly Chan in TLC's Treasure Island

Just look at that gorgeous set! And the lovely costumes!

The show ends on a positive note with the power of friendship to make things family friendly, and it was good for the kids to see how someone can turn over a new leaf. It ends on a high, and you leave feeling extremely satisfied.

Erwin Shah Ismail. Kimberly Chan, Dwayne Lau, Ann Lek, Mitchell Lagos and Tan Shou Chen in TLC's Treasure Island

Enemies turned friends

There are only a few days left (the show ends its run on 13 Dec), and if you haven’t already caught the show, I highly highly recommend it. It is probably my favourite show by The Little Company so far!

Tickets are available through the SISTIC website and the SISTIC hotline (63485555).

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Disclaimer: We were given 4 complementary tickets to watch the show, but all opinions are my own. 

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I bought the children’s version of The Wind in the Willows some years back, and had read it to the kids a couple of times before. We pulled it out again in the run up to the theatre production of The Wind in the Willows performed by talking Scarlet.

The Wind in the Willows is a classic children’s book by Kenneth Grahame and tells the story of four friends – Mole, Ratty, Badger and the irrepressible Mr Toad. When Mole plucks up the courage to explore the Riverbank with his friend Ratty, nothing can prepare him for the adventure that awaits. Along with Badger and Mr Toad, they go from one exploit to the next, brought about mainly by Mr Toad’s reckless indulgences, and it all culminates in a battle not only to save Toad Hall, but their very way of life.

From the get-go the show presented a unique proposition, immersing you in a classic English experience. The costumes, the manner of speech, everything was just so English! I’ve never watched any other play like it. I wondered if the kids had trouble understanding what was said because of the heavy accents and speed of talking, but I loved it! And Mr Toad was played wonderfully! Irresponsible, irreverent, yet lovable and funny. I think the kids connected with him the most.

The irrepressible (irresponsible) Mr Toad

The irrepressible (irresponsible) Mr Toad and his friends

The script was good, the songs were original and very well arranged. I especially liked the song about going into the wild wood. The melody, rhythm, lyrics and mime came together perfectly to make you feel how creepy it was to wander in the woods when it was getting dark…and you hear a pitter patter…and you think someone’s there…

I also liked how they managed to bring you into different scenes by stirring up your imagination through the use of costumes, very simple props, and context. Without the set ever being changed, you are brought from the riverbank, to Toad Hall, on a ride down the country road, to a courtroom, to a jail, etc. Through subtle use of costume changes some actors took on multiple roles, though these might have been a bit to subtle for the kids. You have to be listening carefully to know which new character is being represented.

The 'car' that started Mr Toad's obsession

The ‘car’ that started Mr Toad’s obsession

Mr Toad driving his swanky new car

Now here’s Mr Toad driving his swanky new car!

While I think it is a tad too sophisticated for the little ones, its really appealing for older children and adults. I really enjoyed watching this! I think it would best suit kids 8 years and above. It is also probably a good idea to read the story to your kids first so that they have an idea of the plot and can keep up with the action. As for my kids, they liked the battle scene the best, though they wished the Chief baddy was shown being flung across the room like how it was mentioned in their version of the book. Boys.

The Wind in the Willows is brought in by ABA Productions and runs until Sunday, 14 June 2015 at SOTA Drama Theatre. Tickets are available at the SISTIC website and hotline (63485555). The show is 1h 45min long, something I had overlooked, so if you’re catching the evening show make sure not to overpack your day before that (as I did) and to give your kids enough to eat prior to the show in case they get tired and hungry (and cRaNky – as mine did! Hoo boy! My apologies to those who were sitting around us!)

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We received complementary tickets for this show. All opinions are my own. 

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Some stories attract you by their title alone. You just know it’s going be a good story. You just know you’re going to like it. And it certainly helps when the author is known for writing charming tales with memorable characters. The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers is definitely one such story. I knew that my little bibliophile, Ellery, would like it. What a treat then to have the opportunity to bring him to watch it live!

The story is about a boy called Henry who loves books. Except, Henry doesn’t like to read books, he likes to eat them! Big books, picture books, reference books . . . if it has pages, Henry chews them up and swallows. Red ones are his favourite. And the more he eats, the smarter he gets. He’s on his way to being the smartest boy in the world! However, he eats too many books too quickly. One day he feels sick to his stomach and discovers that the knowledge he has acquired through book eating is all jumbled up inside. He simply can’t digest it! Eventually he learns to enjoy books by reading them, rather than eating them. He also finds that by reading he can still acquire knowledge, and still be on his way to becoming the smartest boy in the world. It will just take a little longer. It’s a unique story that brings home the message that reading is a worthwhile activity, and that there are no shortcuts to success.

Henry about to gobble up a book

Henry about to gobble up a book

Book goes in, brain gets bigger!

Book goes in, brain gets bigger, boy gets smarter!

The stage adaptation of The Incredible Book Eating Boy really brought out the story and allowed you to understand the main character, Henry, and his unique circumstances even more. I liked how they dramatised Henry getting distracted by a cat (doing a massive poo…) and accidentally having his first taste (literally) of books. Through a clever use of angles, lighting, and slight of hand, the actors managed to make it look like Henry was eating up the pages of the book, eating up whole books, and even several books at a go! Of course the adults would know how it’s done, but I think it wow-ed the kids. Ellery whispered to me, “How come he can really eat books, Mummy?”

I thought the actors did very well at switching roles, in particular Teresa Jakovich and Jo Turner who had to take on multiple characters in the show. They really transformed with each character, giving each one a different manner of speech and unique little idiosyncrasies. My favourite had to be Timmy, Henry’s classmate. He was soooo funny. Loved him.

Henry with his Dad and sister

Henry with his Dad and sister

Besides Timmy, my favourite bit in the show was the segment showing ‘Henry’s Kitchen’, a parody that was a cross between sell-a-vision and a cooking show with books as the ingredients. It was so punny! There were lots of humourous references to famous books that parents could appreciate, and several references to familiar childrens books that the kids could recognise. For Ellery, his favourite part of the show was when Henry learned to enjoy reading, rather than eating, books.

After his terrible bout of indigestion, Henry doesn't want to eat book anymore!

Henry cannot stomach the pile of books anymore

I liked how the set and props were inspired by books. The backdrop was of pages of a book, the stage was marked with a boundary of books, the stools were piles of books, and the cleverest part was having props that looked like books which opened into a table complete with pop-up salad bowls and cups! I also liked how the style of the set and props stayed true to Oliver Jeffers’ beautiful and quirky illustrations in the book, right down to Henry’s medal for being the smartest boy on earth.

The smartest boy on earth!

The smartest person on Earth!

It isn’t always true that a good book translates to a good stage adaptation, but CDP theatre producers did a great job. Even though they elaborated on parts of the story, they did not detract from it. I would say their version made the book even more appealing!

On the way home, Ellery told me about how he couldn’t find a particular book and said he was certain Henry must have eaten it up! :)

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Eating the book eating boy

Presented by ABA Productions, The Incredible Book Eating Boy runs until Sunday 24 May and I think there are still tickets for the 430pm show. If you’ve got no plans, it would definitely be worth your while catching this production! Tickets are available via the SISTIC website and ticketing hotline (63485555).

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We received complementary tickets for this show. All opinions are my own.
This post contains affiliate links.

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Ellery skipped school (shh!), and together with Asher and Alyssa we trotted off to catch 金发姑娘和三只熊, otherwise known as Goldilocks and the Three Bears in Mandarin by The Little Company. This Mandarin version is adapted by well-known radio and TV personality, Danny Yeo, and Zhang Lesheng, an award-winning lyricist who has written theme and sub-theme songs for over 90 MediaCorp TV drama serials.

CHIgoldilocks_A3_301014

We had watched the English version a while back, but the kids didn’t seem to remember much about it as they were quite a bit younger then. I was curious to see how this show would play out in Mandarin, and whether the songs and story would work as well when translated from English.

To my surprise I enjoyed it more than the English version! Interestingly, different songs stood out. In the English version, our favourite song was the ‘porridge song’. In Mandarin, we liked the ‘itchy song’ the most, followed by the ‘bear song’ and the ‘beware song’. These songs took on more life when sung in Mandarin, somehow. The songs were much more memorable in Mandarin and I occasionally still have the songs running through my head.

Papa, Mama, and Baby bears

Papa, Mama, and Baby bears (Photo taken from SRT’s Facebook page)

Bears enjoying their porridge (Photo taken from SRT's Facebook page)

Bears enjoying their porridge (Photo taken from SRT’s Facebook page)

I loved the Mandarin puns and thought it was a wonderful opportunity to show the children how Mandarin can enrich a show and make things more interesting. When Goldilocks first saw the bears she was freaking out and kept saying “x-x-x-x-xiong”. Papa Bear then clarified that they were “熊” (xióng – bears) not “凶” (xiōng – fierce). They played on this pun a few times so that the kids could catch it – “熊爸爸” (bear papa) and not “凶爸爸” (fierce papa). It was also funny when Mama Bear wanted to calm Goldilocks down and told Papa Bear, “把小熊给她!” He then tried to pick up Baby Bear to give to Goldilocks! She actually meant the teddy bear, which can also be called 小熊! I pointed out to the boys that these jokes would not have been possible in English. Teddy Bear and Baby Bear wouldn’t have been interchangeable, neither would there have been a fierce daddy/bear daddy pun. They were quite tickled by this and went to ask Jon if he was a 凶 or 熊 daddy at night.

Goldilocks

Goldilocks (Photo taken from SRT’s Facebook page)

There was very good chemistry among the actors, and they really brought the show together. The best part was the entire segment where the bears suspected someone had intruded into their house and found Goldilocks asleep. It was hilarious, not just because of the puns, but because Mama and Papa bear looked so terribly annoyed. You feel like they are convinced that the intruder, by eating their porridge, sitting in their chairs, and lying in the beds, has committed an absolutely unforgivable act and must be severely punished!

Discovering Goldilocks asleep in Baby Bear's bed! (Photo taken from SRT's Facebook page)

Discovering Goldilocks asleep in Baby Bear’s bed! (Photo taken from SRT’s Facebook page)

The only bit that didn’t quite work with the audience was when Goldilocks was singing about girls being capable and independent. I remember this didn’t quite work in the English version either. It’s a good message but I think the language is a bit too sophisticated for many of the young kids attending the show. That was just a very small part of the show though. Overall, it’s a very good production.

Asher, who was at first a bit reluctant to watch a show in Mandarin, declared afterwards that he really liked the show! I think that’s good endorsement :)

Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Mandarin) runs until 29 Mar 2015 at the DBS Arts Centre. You can get your tickets from the SISTIC website or call the ticketing hotline (63485555).

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We received complementary tickets for this show. All opinions are my own.

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