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Bringing theatre alive for families

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There was consternation at Shakespeare’s Globe last week when they discovered a muse of fire, or perhaps a terrifying dragon, at large in the historic bowels of the building.

No wonder, that once word got out, they were inundated with families wanting to come and help Globe staff to sort it out. Every ‘show’ sold out and in some cases points were stretched and a few more people squeezed in.

I was there on Thursday for Muse of Fire (and, as ever, it would have warmed the cockles of my heart not to have been the only journalist present) with dozens of alert and excited children alongside their adults, nearly as frisky as their charges.

This promenade piece for families takes the form of a tour of the Globe. A malevolent force has just been detected under the building. And it’s waiting to consume anything it can find.

The audience is divided into five groups – I was in Dekker – and was led from venue to venue by a tour guide with plenty of tension because, of course, everyone of us is in grave danger.

First we meet Matthew Blake (of Punchdrunk fame) in his forest. A self-styled expert Mythical Beast Catcher, Blake’s character, provides an entertaining illustration of the power of words along with a quick dip into Macbeth. Then it’s on to Roger Lade as a fusty archivist with elevated speech patterns discovering Julius Caesar with the aid of some nifty puppetry and Julie Lade as his tweedy, all-knowing wife.

Next we catch a bit of Romeo and Juliet in rehearsal with Tom Giles as a traditional bewigged male Juliet and Sally Lofthouse as Romeo. Woody Murray is a delight as an Elizabethan hermit, annoyed, puzzled and terrified because he has been accused of firing the cannon which caused the Globe to burn down in 1614. Then we get Eric Sigmundsson as a hard hatted man from the building site in a panic because there’s a spirit loose in the building. When we meet him for the second time we are in a fiery cave listening to the soporific, sinister voice of Melanie Wilson. And as for the denouement in the Globe Theatre itself when all groups come together at the end …

It’s entertaining, funny, clever and informative. Harper Ray and Adam Sibbald have done a splendid job of devising a series of very imaginative pieces and making sure that the whole thing hangs together seamlessly. And they’ve done it partly by starting with collaborations with people and organisations at the top of their game such as Little Angel Theatre, Melanie Wilson and Punchdrunk as a way of ensuring the highest possible quality. This is theatre for young audiences at its innovative best and not even remotely patronising. Everyone had fun and everyone learned loads. Bravo.

Rumour has it that the same force of all-consuming fire and stories might, just might, escape at the Globe again for a couple of weeks at Easter ….

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