Visiting the day after their 10th Anniversary party, the staff at the Cornerstone could be forgiven for being a bit worse for wear; however, they were surprisingly chipper when we arrived to see Mischief and Mystery in Moomin Valley. The show bills itself as 'magical puppetry' and 'interactive play' for children aged 4 to 7 years. On the way there I pondered the choice of this age range which would exclude many families - a brave decision given the relative expense and lesser ‘entertainment time’ of a theatre trip compared to the traditional cinema or soft play.
Once the show started, and we were told to check we had our imaginations, the logic of the age range became clear. The interactive play involved regular breaks in the Moominland narrative for the audience to imagine they were having a snow ball fight, under the sea or lighting a fire. I don’t believe the skill involved with getting kids and adults to have fun using just their imaginations should be underestimated, nor its value. The smiles on the faces of the kids as they invented ridiculous things to roast on the campfire, or creatures they could be under the sea, were contagious. This sort of imagination-based fun only works when kids are old enough to understand, and be swept along with, the scenarios invented. My four year old and seven year old seemed to enjoy it equally on different levels.
In fact the only points at which the show was in danger of losing audience attention (fatal in kids' shows) was during the songs. Tove Jansson’s characters - Moomintroll, Little My and Snufkin- sang songs with admirable messages, in keeping with her original stories, for example about the importance of adventure and friendship. Unfortunately, the lyrics were a bit too complex, and hard to hear, to keep the attention of the audience. The only other niggle was the set-up of the stage: from where I sat I couldn’t see some pages of the beautifully-crafted giant pop-up book that formed the backdrop to some of the
However, as a tribute to Tove Jansson’s originality, and the importance of imagination, it was perfect. It reminded me that, at its best, theatre is interactive. Unlike when watching a film, the children communicated with the performers and each one played a small but important part in the show - I suspect the kids enjoyed that part the best.
Finally on the relative expense of theatre trips versus soft play or cinema: my kids enjoyed a good hour of play in the Cornerstone cafe, which is well-stocked with toys, books and colouring, so I felt I got my money's worth. A rainy Sunday afternoon well-spent.