A strange thing about kids' theatre is most shows seem to be targeted at kids ages 3 to 8. Unfortunately this means, as soon as my oldest turns 9, we won't be visiting the theatre for a while. In the meantime I'm determined to try anything, which is how we ended up at the Cornerstone in Didcot on a quiet half-term Friday.
Messy, a Zoo Company show, uses a deaf and hearing cast and Sign Supported English, in partnership with the ADHD Foundation. This was my first experience of Sign Supported/Relaxed theatre and I wondered how it would differ from other kids' shows. In particular I wondered how the cast would keep the audience's attention - always a challenge when performing to pre-schoolers up to sophisticated Year 3s.
As it turns out Sign Supported English is an excellent idea for kids' theatre. Essentially SSE is a sign language that uses the same sentence structure as English, so it can be used alongside spoken lines. It means kids get to see acting, talking and signing, all at the same time, so there's always plenty to watch. Plus the physical nature of signing seems to help communicate the action to even the youngest audience member.
Indeed the subject matter - a girl who's worried about looking after the class hamster because of her messy nature - might be too complex for the 3 year olds without the repetition of signs for hamster, worry and mess.
It really was an inclusive performance, with plenty of cushions for children at the front but also plenty of chairs for those who don't like to be quite so close to the action. As always, the bits my kids enjoyed best were the audience interactions - particularly when they were picked to show off their silly dances. The only trick the show missed was to take the action out into the audience to allow the more reserved kids to feel that exciting involvement which only comes with live theatre.
I'm sure my kids would also have liked to meet the actors after the show, as often happens in kids theatre. However I couldn't blame the cast for collapsing in a heap afterwards- I can only imagine the exhaustion of performing a show in two languages (English and Sign Supported English) simultaneously. I'm sure patting their heads and rubbing their tummies at the same time would be a walk in the park for this amazingly talented crew.
In short, I'm already looking forward to Zoo Company's next show - their use of Sign Supported English really is a win for deaf and non-deaf audiences alike.