Wednesday 17 September 2014

Review: What The Ladybird Heard Live

I recently took Ebony to see her first theatre production. A few months ago, I booked tickets for us to see What The Ladybird Heard at The Lowry in the hope that she would sit through the whole production and the money would not be wasted.

We already had the book (one of my charity shop bargain finds), so as the big day approached, I simply made sure it was one of our regular fixtures for bedtime reading. We are big Julia Donaldson fans in this house, and though this book isn’t one of my favourites, it is fun to read and Ebony enjoys it.

I’m always surprised to discover just how much Ebony takes in about her bedtime stories. We went to meet Laurie for lunch before the show, and Ebony recited a lot of the book for us over a pizza. After lunch, we said goodbye to Laurie and headed for the tram.

The tram took much longer than I was expecting, who knew Salford was so far from Manchester? We arrived just in time, and sat down moments before the show started. We were sat on the front row which was amazing, and though there were some props at the front of the stage, these didn’t seem to restrict Ebony’s view at all.

The show lasted an hour, and Ebony was enthralled throughout. She tore her eyes away only to explain the plot to me, point things out and repeat things the characters had said. It was so good to see her enjoying the theatre, at one point I had to fight back tears, though this is the case at every theatre production I attend. I had a particularly traumatic theatre visit at a young age, where my parents surprised me by taking me to see Les Miserables, which is something you should really give six year olds (who really really want to see Les Mis because their two bestest friends have seen it and they feel completely and utterly left out of all Les Mis related playground games and singing sessions) advance warnings of because it was so overwhelming, amazing and unexpected that I don’t think I ever quite recovered from the shock. Each theatre visit is a trigger, even to this day, reminding me of just how immense the theatre can be.

The show followed the basic storyline of the book, but with plenty of extras to keep children entertained.

The set and props were amazing, truly. Some of the props were almost animation-like, and looked just perfect. The blooming flowers were such a lovely touch, and the whole show seemed to be filled with these clever little tricks to really bring the show to life. I also loved the animals - many of whom were fashioned with discarded props from around the farm, and I thought that was a really creative way of including each of the animals in an interesting and fun way. The ladybird, who doesn’t really have much to say in the book, was brought to live using a number of techniques, my favourite of which was a small red LED flying around the stage. At one point the lights went out, and I immediately expected to hear some crying from somewhere in the theatre, but instead all the children were mesmerised by the tiny ladybird darting about above the front row.

The show featured everything a two year old could possibly want from life - singing, dancing, musical instruments, creativity, puppetry, and cats. Ebony loved the cats. A lot. The songs are catchy and repetitive in that way that childrens’ songs are, so I still can’t get them out of my bloody head, which has been really annoying for me, but I’ve also heard Ebony singing along to herself which is sweet.

All of the actors were fantastic, and really threw themselves into the performance. Lanky Len was definitely my favourite character, and the actor was so perfect for the part. He was like a real life Beaker (from The Muppets) but without the ginger hair. His voices, facial expressions and timing added another cartoon-like element to the production.

There was a whole song about the cow producing delicious milk and yoghurt, which wasn’t particularly vegan friendly, but we were on the opposite side of the stage, and it was right at the start of the show as kids were still quieting down so I don’t think Ebony heard it at all. The book doesn’t really touch on life on the farm at all, so I hadn’t really considered that they might sing about how much the cow loved making yoghurt.

One of my worries when I bought tickets, was that Ebony wouldn’t be captivated by the show and would instead be wandering around or talking loudly over the top. There was absolutely no need to worry, she was completely fascinated with every aspect of the show. Just behind us was a baby who must have been around one, and he too sat enthralled the whole way through, his big eyes fixed on the stage the entire time.

Another worry was audience participation, at two and a half Ebony isn’t quite ready for shouting into microphones or anything yet, and I was worried that our front row tickets might see us in the danger zone. Again, there was nothing to worry about, they didn’t put any kids on the spots with glaring spotlights and fluffy mics. The only real audience participation was some shouting and standing up at the end, but it was all voluntary and Ebony actually joined in (much to my disappointment because I usually use her as my excuse for not joining in with such things).

What The Ladybird Heard Live was an enchanting and magical performance that brought a much-loved bedtime story to life, and I would definitely recommend getting tickets if it’s coming to your area. You can find out more about the show, and check the tour dates here.

I’m already on the lookout for more shows to take Ebony to, so any recommendations would be much appreciated.

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