One of my favourite things about living in Bristol is the sheer amount of things going on. As a popular tourist destination as well as a city rich in dramatic history (Blackbeard anyone?) there are always plenty of choices for places to visit and activities to get involved in. It's such a shame that so many people who live locally seem to shun the tourist~y spots like Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol Zoo and the SS Great Britain ~ my lot love them! Part of the aim of abstract Lucas is to pass on some ideas of places that you and your family might be interested in visiting, as well as some tips if your family includes a child (or teenager or adult) with additional needs.
Hey Diddle Diddle at Bristol Old Vic
We've seen several productions at the Bristol Old Vic over the last few years ~ they tend to put something very child friendly on around christmas, and sometimes we've gone through Special Friends Club*. This Christmas, it was Hey Diddle Diddle, which was fantastic ~ the final performance is today, but I want to tell you about it as it's excellent quality is representative of the other productions we've seen there aimed at a young audience.
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The basic premise of the show was simple ~ three siblings had got out of bed and home downstairs to play, and an old trunk had started producing various toys and props for their imaginative play, focused around the theme of nursery rhymes such as Jack and Jill, the Grand Old Duke of York, and Incy Wincy Spider.
Officially aimed at children between the ages of three and six, because of the enduring nature of nursery rhymes it was also very much enjoyed by Petal and Noah, even though they are eight and nine, and technically, I'm thirty two and I thought it was great! By the way, did you know that there's more than one verse to Twinkle Twinkle? (I didn't!)
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The simplicity of the set appealed to Smiler, and because it didn't keep changing he could concentrate properly on the actors instead. The single consistent prop of the big trunk was used imaginatively by the actors, at one point moving it into the middle to climb onto (Grand Old Duke of York) but for the most part it remained at the back of the stage.
The lighting was uncomplicated but very effective, used most of the time to outline the shadow of a staircase as a reminder that the children were supposed to be upstairs in bed, and also came in handy for incy wincey spider's shadow!
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Much of the music throughout the play was created by the actors themselves, using a violin and a cello. Because of the subtle way in which the instruments were introduced the music merged seamlessly with the singing and contemporary dance elements, which again made it easier for Smiler to concentrate on the action with minimal thinking time spent on the supporting elements. This simplicity was reinforced through the three actors being the only three characters, apart from the parents saying a few words each at the start, heard but not seen.
The actors all sung the rhymes beautifully, and regularly looked to the audience for encouragement, or the last word in a line of familiar rhyme for example. Smiler loved this interaction, laughing and clapping and even (a couple of times) shouting out answers.
The show was in the Studio, with most of the seating on the lower level and a second balcony level with seating to. We have sat downstairs for previous productions, but as this is the level of the stage, Smiler found it intimidating and took a while to calm down and actually stop worrying and watch the show, so we opted for the upper balcony this time. An advantage to sitting on the balcony is that you have a slightly better view of the stage as a whole, and I was very impressed that even from above certain pieces, such as the children climbing into the box and then disappearing, retained the mystery of how it was done. It's also worth noting that although Noah and Petal are aged 9 and 8 respectively, when discussing their favourite bits on the way home in the car they recognised that it had to be some kind of (for want of a better word) trick, at the time they were so engrossed in the action that they did not question the magic of it at all, and even afterwards were not sure how it had been done.
On previous visits when Smiler has been reliant on his wheelchair I have been very impressed with the way the staff have been. Although there isn't a through floor lift available to get to the studio ground floor, there is an (admittedly ancient) platform that goes down the staircase. I would imagine it is a health and safety nightmare for them, but they clearly had procedures in place ~ one member of staff at the bottom of the stairs, making sure no one tries to climb the stairs when the contraption is being used, another at the top for the same, and a third accompanying Smiler down. The staff were friendly and chatty, talking to Smiler as well as myself, and didn't seem at all resentful that this meant that the play actually started a few minutes late. As I said, this was a couple of years ago and as Smiler is (currently) able to walk with support, I'm not sure if the technology has changed by now. The overwhelmingly positive attitude of the staff certainly has not ~ Smiler initiated a high ~ five with the guy holding the door open as we were exiting, and he immediately reciprocated, even though Smiler's speech is not very clear. I appreciate that this might be utterly unimportant to others, but to Smiler it means a great deal. It is also worth knowing that assistance dogs are welcome (let them know when you book), and they have audio described performances as well as BSL interpreted ones ~ of course these were limited but at least they're there! Of course, like any other specialist access requirements the more demand the more they will supply, so do let the box office know if your feelings (politely of course!). We've found the box office staff very friendly and approachable when we've spoken to them, and focus very much on finding the best solution in any given situation, which is fantastic. In addition it is useful to know that a disabled visitor (including a child with a disability) who require a companion can ask for a free companion ticket when booking tickets.
Hey Diddle Diddle has (I believe) finished at the Old Vic now, but I would imagine a new show will be featured around the same time next year ... I mean THIS year! We also saw Treasure Island presented by the Old Vic, which I'm sure plenty of Bristoleans will remember due to the huge pirate ship stage which was actually outside, with actors climbing in and out of the windows on the front of the theatre. Peter Pan is currently receiving rave reviews, and although this is a little out of our price range, I would love to go as I no have no doubt that it's absolutely amazing. If you have any questions about the suitability of a particular show for your family or access arrangements, I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending that you get in touch with the box office, or even pop in if you're in town. Please let me know if you see something great there, I'd love to hear from you.
* Special friends Club ~ a local charity which organises trips out and social opportunities for families of children with additional needs.