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Sponge review at the Barbican, London – ‘teething issues’

Sponge at the Barbican. Photo: Alix Marina-Chouhan Sponge at the Barbican. Photo: Alix Marina-Chouhan

Given the squishy props of the title, impressive costumes, disco music and two smiley dancers, accompanied by a promise of audience participation, fun for all the family is almost guaranteed. However, baby shows not infrequently come with teething issues too.

It’s not all about the show content alone. Regular baby-theatre goers will have come to expect a series of conveniences to be already in place – shoes and belongings within easy reach, being spared the need to fumble for tickets multiple times on the way in, cushions for your patch of floor and enough space for your limbs. Venues that specialise in programming for this age group have this sorted to a tee; the Barbican and Turned on its Head unfortunately have some way to go yet.

Another important consideration when it comes to the design of the experience are the terms of engagement. Although participation was an aim – and the performers had an easy way of dealing with unplanned audience incursions – the problem here was the predominance of the unplanned, often in an uncomfortably chaotic sense of the word.

Director Liz Clark has said that the 18 months spent working on this show with babies was the most fun she’s had in her career so far. In seeing the show there is no doubt about this at all. Nevertheless, safe limitations, inspired guidance and playful support are just as important when catering for a baby audience and should have been more in evidence in this show.

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Potentially fun-filled family show dissolves into chaos