I went on a trip last week. I walked down to Angel station and took the Northern Line almost as far as it would take me – possibly the longest tube journey I’ve been on since moving to London. I’m not a big fan of the tube, I prefer the lovely red buses. Anyway, my journey took me to Wimbledon, where I visited a magic place called Polka Theatre. Polka Theatre produces world-class theatre for little people and it is led by the lovely and inspiring Jonathan Lloyd, who had agreed to meet me for an interview. My reason for interviewing Jonathan was that I had visited the Southbank Centre a few days earlier to see a Danish children’s performance called Goodbye, Mr. Muffin – a heart-tugging story about the last days in the life of a beloved guinea pig. The performance – and a few emails to my editor at Børneteateravisen.dk, a Danish publication that focuses solely on performing arts for children – got me thinking about the differences between Danish and British culture, more specifically about how the two handle difficult subjects in regards to children. I had heard about Polka Theatre and decided to give them a call, on the off chance that somebody there would agree to talk to me about the subject. And that’s how I ended up in a wooden train wagon in Polka’s café, having one of the most interesting conversations about children’s theatre that I’ve had in a while.
In case you didn’t know – children’s theatre is awesome. I have no idea how many hours of my childhood I’ve spent on the floor in some gym, witnessing magic on an improvised stage or even going to an actual theatre to see a play created especially for me. Well, at least that’s how it felt. What I didn’t know, was that all these hours on gym floors and all the trips to different theatres, were actually preparing me for me life. Because the majority of children’s performances have an important story to tell. In the case of Mr. Muffin, the story is this: we all have to die one day. Hopefully it’ll be after a long and full life – Mr. Muffin sure didn’t have anything to complain about: a lovely wife, four furry children, a nice little house, a mail box, and even letters in the mail box every once in a while. So when his tummy started hurting and the vet said there was nothing he could do, it was okay. (If you’re wondering: yes, I all but cried my eyes out during the performance. As did most other adults in the audience. The kids were fine.)
Children’s theatre is magic. It gives children resources to understand themselves and the world they live in. Or in the words of Jonathan Lloyd: »Children know that there are things out there that they are not supposed to know about – which obviously makes them very interesting to them. So if you’re telling a story to children, do you pretend those things aren’t there? Or do you try and introduce them in a way that is appropriate and doesn’t overwhelm them? It’s a challenge, because a lot of good stories deal with quite difficult and emotional subjects. Personally, I think you can be bold about your subjects, and you should never underestimate children’s capacity of understanding the world they live in. It is crucial for us to talk to children, and get their voices, their stories and their opinions and give them our stage as a platform.«
The theatre still rocks my socks off. In terms of things that money can buy, few things make me happier than entering a space for performing arts and sitting down for an hour or two to listen to what the people on stage are telling me – whether it’s with their voices or their bodies. To me, it's magic.
(Here is alink to the full article. It is, of course, in Danish, but hey, Google Translate is your friend. However, please don’t judge my writing or Jonathan’s ability to express himself from the results of Google Translate.)
(Also, a big thank you to Jonathan for taking the time to talk to me and to Elise Neve, Press and Marketing Officer at Polka Theatre, for setting it all up and just being lovely and helpful.)