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Centre Stage: Autumn family preview

First Published 17 April 2008, Last Updated 18 April 2008

Kids Week may be over, the new school year may have started, but it’s not all doom and gloom (in fact, it is remarkably sunny over Theatreland). Autumn means a flurry of activity in the West End, with many new shows gearing up to open, among them several family-friendly treats. So if your child got a taste for theatre through Kids Week and is just itching to see more, Caroline Bishop gives you a handy round-up of major new family shows this pre-panto autumn season…


Hairspray / Shaftesbury / from 11 October – Mel Smith and Michael Ball form the unlikeliest couple for this feelgood musical import from Broadway. They are the parents of Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Leanne Jones), a big girl with a big heart who just loves to dance. When she auditions for a spot on the local television dance show, Tracy finds herself up against all sorts of prejudice. Not deterred, Tracy makes it her mission to change the world (or, at least, 1960s Baltimore), and win the heart of Link Larkin in the process. Think big hair, comedy costumes, crazy dancing, Any Dream Will Do contestant Ben Ellis (as Link) and Ball in a dress – what’s not to like? 

Momix Greatest Hits / Peacock / from 6 November – The US dancers/illusionists have popped into the Peacock on a number of occasions and now they are back with their greatest hits show. As ever, Momix presents a weird and wonderful style of dance, using lights, props and their super-flexible bodies to create shapes and images that you wouldn’t think humanly possible, prompting a harmonious chorus of oohs and aahs from the audience.

Herge’s Adventures Of Tintin / Playhouse / from 6 December – Footloose has a break from the Playhouse over Christmas to make way for a short run of Rufus Norris’s acclaimed Tintin adaptation, which first played at the Barbican in 2005. The show is based on the story of Tintin In Tibet, in which the comic book hero, his trusty dog Snowy and the curmudgeonly Captain Haddock embark on a journey to find Tintin’s friend Chang, who is lost in the Himalayas following a plane crash. A chance for all grown-up Tintin fans to introduce the boy with the trademark quiff to their offspring. 

Marianne Dreams / Almeida / from 13 December – The Almeida is getting down with the kids for its first ever family show. The Islington theatre has drafted in dancer and choreographer Will Tuckett to direct this new stage adaptation of Catherine Storr’s 1958 children’s story. On her 10th birthday, Marianne is confined to bed, drawing to pass the time. When she falls asleep she is transported into her pictures and realises that she has the power to change her dreams. The show uses both actors and dancers to convey Marianne’s dreamy world. Recommended 7+ 

For bigger kids

Bad Girls / Garrick / opens 12 September – You wouldn’t imagine that a bunch of hard-nosed prisoners would spontaneously break into song, but this lot do. Based on the long-running television series and written by the same team, this musical version has many of the characters from the small screen (including two of its cast members). For those who don’t know it, Bad Girls centres on the eclectic assortment of female inmates of HMP Larkhall, the battles between idealistic Wing Governor Helen Stewart and the old guard officers, and the love story between Stewart and prisoner Nicki Wade.
Recommended 8+ 

War Horse / National Theatre / from 8 October – Another hotly anticipated children’s show at the National Theatre, following successful productions of His Dark Materials and Coram Boy. War Horse is adapted from the novel by former children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo. It is the outbreak of World War One and Joey, Albert’s beloved horse, is sold to the cavalry and shipped to France, where he is soon caught up in an extraordinary odyssey. Back home, Albert cannot forget his friend and, though he is still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to bring Joey home. Morpurgo’s powerful story is told on stage with both actors and life-sized puppets from the Handspring Puppet Company.
Recommended 12+ 

Desperately Seeking Susan / Novello / from 12 October – A nostalgia trip for all those 30-somethings who loved the original film, the quirky combination of romance, comedy, 80s fashion and catchy tunes should also appeal to all female teenagers currently enjoying the resurgence of leggings and ra-ra skirts as the party outfit of choice. Creator and fervent Susan fan Peter Michael Marino has come up with the unusual concept of combining the songs of Blondie with the plotline of the film. The intriguing result is a musical that tells the life-swapping story of New York housewife Roberta Glass (Kelly Price) and streetwise Susan (Emma Williams), while singing The Tide Is High and One Way Or Another.
Recommended 10+

Much Ado About Nothing / National Theatre / from 10 December – It is perfect timing for any secondary school student with this comedy romp on the curriculum, as the National presents a brand new production with a cracking cast including Zoë Wanamaker and Simon Russell Beale as sparring singletons Beatrice and Benedick. With masked balls, dashing young soldiers, evil wrong-doers, scandal and subterfuge, this dark comedy has more chance than most of Shakespeare’s canon of entertaining fidgety teenagers.
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Don’t miss

Mary Poppins / Prince Edward / closes 12 January – The wind must have changed for the ultimate family show as the magical nanny is sadly packing her mysteriously roomy bags at the Prince Edward early next year. It has been a three-year run for the musical but now it’s your last chance to see it in the capital. Based on the stories of creator PL Travers and the famous film, Mary Poppins tells the story of the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious nanny who, with a little help from friendly chimney sweep Bert, adds a bit of magic to the lives of the Banks family. Scarlett Strallen and Gavin Creel continue as Mary and Bert to the end of the run.

NB: Please note, this is a guide only and parents should check with the box office if concerned about age suitability.


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