At the moment live theatre is illegal in Wales. Sounds mad but there we are. It’s been a bit of a shock to the system to miss out on frequent live theatre, dance, music, festivals and now the festive period of pantos, musicals, indie shows, puppetry, all that magic.
If you’re gagging for a family theatre experience in the Vale of Glamorgan I have GOOD NEWS! The amazing Cardiff based Taking Flight Theatre Company are taking their brilliant First Three Drops show on a virtual tour around Wales. Memo Arts Centre in Barry are selling tickets for two shows on Sunday 22nd November at 11am and 2pm.
My kids and I experienced First Three Drops from the comfort of our own living room when it was first performed for RCT and we loved it. It’s recommended for little ones aged 2-9 and their families but my 12 year old enjoyed it too. It’s not like watching a recorded show on telly, it feels live and it’s lovely to see all the other families at the end, you really get that warm buzz of being involved in something with other people.
Each actor appears in a separate Zoom box on the screen from their own home and one of the highlights for us was watching comedy costume changes and how the actors transformed their spaces into different scenes.
The show feels new but as it went on it had familiar vibes as it’s based on a story from the Mabinogion. It’s silly and positive with all the chaos and magic I expect of the best family friendly live theatre and left us all dancing on the sofa.
It’s only £6 per screen so you just pay for one ticket for your household. Bargain.
You could go all out, get dressed up and get the kids to pretend you’re at the theatre, showing you to your seat with a torch and selling packets of Malteasers or keep it casual and just cwtch up on the couch.
Taking Flight are awesome at making their shows as accessible as possible so expect live captions and integrated audio description, it’s done so well that you don’t even notice it, all description is woven into the words of the characters. First Three Drops is in English, British Sign Language and Sign Supported English.
Book your tickets through Memo Arts Centre now to make sure you don’t miss out and let me know what you think:
It’s that time of year when finances feel stretched by the urge to splurge on personalised Quality Street tins or extravagant advent calendars. I’ve been pulling together another post of family friendly theatre highlights for the festive season but when you’ve got fancy food and Christmas dos competing for your pennies maybe a family trip to a show has fallen off your list.
I’m here to say (in the words of Celine Dion) “think twice” and to share some of the ways you can cut the cost of tickets this Christmas.
Most theatres and arts centres offer group ticket deals. It can take a bit of organising but it can be so worth it. Could you arrange it with a group of families from your children’s school or a sports club that they go to? Deals and offers vary but don’t ask, don’t get. If you ask, some theatres can send extra flyers to promote a group trip. If you’re a theatre keeno it’s a great time of year to share the love and persuade other families and friends to join you for a social at a show.
2. Go small
The biggest and most expensive productions can be a real treat but lower price and smaller venue don’t mean it’s any less of a treat. We saw a show at Chapter one year for only £5 each and it was AMAZING. Take a chance on a company you’ve not heard of before or try out a more local arts centre rather than trek to town to the massive venues.
3. Early Bird
Some venues offer early bird ticket deals so it can make money sense to book as soon as you can.
4. Sherman 5
For people living close to or in Cardiff, Sherman 5 can help remove barriers to going to the theatre, maybe you’ve never been before, can’t afford it or want to join one of the Sherman 5 Communities like their Deaf Theatre Club or Theatre of Sanctuary: their Refugee and Asylum Seeker Community. I’ve joined as part of a community group to introduce new families to the theatre. They put on extra experiences, pre show events as well as making tickets far cheaper at £5 for adults and £2.50 for kids. shermantheatre.co.uk/sherman5
5. Time Credits
If you’ve not heard of Time Credits, look them up. They’re a voucher type payment for volunteering and can be “spent” at a wide range of places around the UK so could help offset the cost of a theatre visit. Check with the theatre first as they don’t all accept them and sometimes they’re limited to certain shows. timecredits.com
Instead of paying for tickets and presents, make the trip a gift experience. Last year my granddad gave me money to get something for the children. Instead of using it all on more toys and tat that we have no room for, I bought them tickets for a theatre show at Christmas. They knew it was from their great granddad and it was a lovely treat. I know very young kids can fail to really get the gift experience concept but if you’ve got relativesasking you for ideas for Christmas presents, either tickets or maybe a voucher for your local theatre would be a good idea.
7. Hynt (Wales only)
Have you heard of the hynt card? Hynt is the national access scheme for theatres and arts centres in Wales. It’s a card scheme for people who need a carer at the theatre and they’ve got listings of shows with accessible features. If your kid or anyone else in your family needs additional support, go and apply if you haven’t already as membership gives you free tickets for carers. If anyone in your family needs captions, BSL interpretation, audio description or touch tours check their listings page. Same goes for Relaxed and Dementia Friendly performances. It’s an Arts Council of Wales initiative so it’s only in Wales. hynt.co.uk
Concessions are basically discounts for all sorts of reasons. Don’t ask, don’t get. If you’re taking anyone over 60 with you, ask about discounts. Not every show or every venue will have this concession but they do exist. Not heard of any reduced tickets for people on statutory maternity pay (the poorest I have ever been in my life) but lots of theatres also have discounts for students, unwaged people, under 16s, under 25s and even under 30s.
9. Plan ahead
This is the stuff that can get a bit boring but you can save by doing a bit of prep. I’m useless at this. I’m a last minute Larry. Car parking can cost a fortune, especially if you’re going to a city centre venue. Some theatres have deals with car parks (Wales Millennium Centre for example) but if they don’t their box office staff should be able to advise you on the cheapest car park. This is the kind of thing you need to arrange when you’re booking. We’ll sometimes leave extra time to find free or cheaper on road parking and a bit of a walk rather than spend a fortune in a rip off NCP multi-storey. I don’t always have the car so we’ll get public transport.
10. You don’t have to buy everything
Theatres need to make money to carry on existing. Fact. Most of the theatres and arts centres I’ve worked with in Wales are registered charities with incredibly tiny budgets. If you have lots of money and you’re feeling flash then feel free to splash that cash but if the cost of Christmas is already making you twitch it’s OK to limit your secondary spend. Especially at the larger venues. It’s common sense but you don’t have to buy drinks AND ice cream AND sweets AND a programme AND some crappy flashing spinning thing. It can be lovely to have something as a memento but we’ve kept tickets or a flyer to put in a scrap book instead. I’m a cheap skate and proud of it. Get drinks OR ice cream. Some venues let you pre book ice creams for a discount when you’re ordering tickets. Don’t get a noisy rustling packet of sweets each, get one to share and pop some little cups in your bag to share them out. It saves the fuss of passing the bag up and down the row during the show (if it’s the kind of show where you sit in a row).
A lot of this is common sense and I’m cringing a bit at potentially teaching you to suck eggs. It’s a lovely time of year to have a theatre trip as a treat but I know it can seem like an expensive experience. I’ve written this list to show that there can be ways of making it work and if it pokes just one extra person into going along to a live performance this Christmas then my work here is done.
Off with your kids over half term? Me neither. I’ll try squeezing in some mini jaunts to quell the FOMO beast but here are some of my top spots for this incredibly Halloween saturated week ahead.
Memo Arts Centre, Barry
Abominable Friday 25 October – Saturday 2 November (various times) from £3.50 in advance
Animation from the makers of How to Train Your Dragon about Yi meeting a Yeti and going on a quest to Everest.
There are loads of showings which include an Autism Friendly Screening on Tuesday 29 October at 11am for a more relaxed environment with the lights kept on low, the sound not quite so loud and a breakout quiet space.
Little Shop of Horrors Wednesday 30 October (4pm) £3.50 in advance
An amazing cast including Steve Martin and John Candy star in this 80s comedy musical about a plant with a taste for human flesh. Before the film they’ve got Halloween crafts in the café from 3.15pm.
The Nightmare Before Christmas Thursday 31 October (3pm) £3.50 in advance
Dress up in your Halloween gear for this Tim Burton animation about Jack Skellington. Before the film they’ve got Halloween crafts in the café from 2.15pm.
Oskar’s Amazing Adventure Friday 1 November (2pm) £7
I saw this lovely play in Edinburgh a few years ago and I’m so glad it’s coming to Barry. It’s about a puppy and uses songs and puppets. At the end the children can meet the performer and get to play with the puppets.
National Museum, Cardiff
Dippy on Tour Saturday 19 October – Sunday 26 January (10am – 5pm) FREE
It’s only bloody Dippy the Diplodocus from the National History Museum. He’s in Cardiff for a few months but this half term is the first chance to catch him here. There are some cracking Dippy themed events coming up like a Museum Sleepover on 16 November and a family friendly HUSH Silent Disco on 30 November.
Cosmeston Medieval Village, Penarth
Medieval Hallowe’en Event Thursday 31 October (10am – 3pm) £5 per child
Discover where the Monsters of Mayhem are hiding. For ages 5-12, accompanying adults are free.
St Fagans National Museum of History, Cardiff
Halloween Nights Tuesday 29 – Thursday 31 October (6-9pm) £13 adults, £10 children
We went to this last year and had I loved that the event tapped into the opposite of the overly Americanised plastic crap Halloween filling up supermarket aisles nowadays. There were traditional ghost stories steeped in Welsh history, folk traditions and ghostly guests. Suitable for ages 4-12 and their grown ups.
Pumpkin Picking Patch, St Nicholas
Pumpkin Picking Friday 18 – Thursday 31 October (9.30am – 4pm) parking and entry FREE, Crafts from £4.50, pay for your pumpkins
I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that this will be incredibly busy with instagrammers, I fear that the best pumpkins have already gone and there’s potential for a mini squash flavoured Fyre Festival but PYO veg has that irresistible wholesomeness about it. I’ve not been but with the closure of Hendrewennol, there’s an appeal to a local pumpkin picking patch. Let me know what you think.
Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Cardiff
The Mystery of the Raddlesham Mumps Thursday 31 October (7pm) £8
A dark and witty mix of storytelling and poetry from the BBC 6 Music Poet in Residence, Murray Lachlan. Bizarre and hilarious death stories told by a butler to a boy. Halloween outfits encouraged. From 6pm there’s a unique Virtual Reality prequel to the show. For ages 7+.
Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
I Wish I Was a Mountain Tuesday 29 October – Friday 1 November (11am all days and 7pm on Tuesday) £7
Written and performed by former Glastonbury Poetry Slam Champion, Toby Thompson. Based on a fairy tale of a man who wishes to be turned into a mountain. Creatively translated into BSL by deaf poet Donna Williams at 7pm on 29 and 11am on 30 October. For ages 6+.
Central Park, Barry
Pumpkins in the Park Saturday 26 October (12 – 5pm) £2 for pumpkin carving
Online bookings have sold out but limited slots available on the day. Expect pumpkin carking, bouncy castle, fun fair, crafts and even a dog fancy dress show.
Scream Your Heart Out Saturday 26 October (7pm) £5
For adults only, this screening of the classic horror film Scream for over 18s is in the park, in the dark. Not a family friendly event, obviously.
Amelia Trust Farm, Barry
Pumpkin Patch Trail Saturday 26 October – Sunday 3 November (10am – 4pm) £2.50 plus entrance fee
Buy your trail leaflet from the café, solve the clues to find the pumpkin faces .
Creepy Crawly Shows Monday 28 – Tuesday 29 October (2pm) £3.50 plus entrance fee
Brave enough to meet rats, snails and snakes? Meet the creatures in these ticketed shows. For ages 1+.
These aren’t the only events and shows on this half term but it’s a starter. We can’t do everything and it can all get a tad overwhelming at times. This list is for when you’re looking for a treat.
Wowzers. We started our Easter holidays as we meant to go on: having an awesome time. More specifically, dancing. My kids and their mate had a whale of a time with National Dance Company Wales at Dance Days.
I drove us over to Cardiff Bay, parked in the Red Dragon Centre (because I’d rather buy a coffee and ice creams in Cadwalader’s to validate my parking than just throw pound coins away in a car park machine) and trotted over to the Dance House, the home of NDCWales in Wales Millennium Centre.
Guy, the organiser of Dance Days, greeted us with a smile at the door. Guy is calm, warm and helpful so put the three boys at ease and made them feel really welcome. Going along to courses and workshops like this in the holidays isn’t only about the facilitator, it’s also about all the other people you meet and talk to along the way.
Dance Days are our national dance company’s way of introducing contemporary dance to children and young people, using the choreographic ideas that their professional touring company perform around the world. For context, my boys don’t go to regular dance classes but their friend goes to street dance on the weekly and all three of them were buzzing when they came out. Experience level didn’t matter. There’s no specialist kit to wear, they take part in bare feet and comfy clothes so no one feels like the odd one out or a newbie in the wrong gear.
The children don’t stay for the whole day. It’s split into two sessions of 3 hours for 7-11 year olds in the morning and 12-16 year olds in the afternoon. My dancing trio were 7, 7 and 10 and it was perfectly pitched at them and the other children in the group.
The date and timing worked out well for me (selfish!) as I had a work meeting in the Bay that morning but from all the little scooters that accompanied younger siblings at pick up time I think most families made the most of the location and school holiday by zooming across the Barrage during Dance Days. We also had a crack at the free crafting in the Wales Millennium Centre foyer on our walk back to the car.
You could opt to do one day at £15 or two days at £25 per child. I worked through the holidays and couldn’t get the logistics to work out for two days. It would have been more convenient for me to have them both in one place for a full day but I appreciate for the younger dancers that it might be a bit much and it’s not designed for babysitting or childcare (but that is a Brucey Bonus of taking kids to this sort of thing). If money’s a barrier, NDCWales also offer some Dance Days tickets at £5.
At the end of the hour session, the grown-ups and siblings were invited to watch a “quick sharing of what they’ve been up to”. The amount of work that they showed back to us was bonkers.
I particularly loved the general positive vibe in the room. There were no show offs, they were all happy and silly but behaving respectfully, working together and listening to the dance ambassador who led the session. A diverse bunch of children of difference abilities and ages all worked together and shared something really special.
They didn’t just spend the three hours learning routines. They had creative tasks using Caroline Finn’s choreographic ideas that the company use in Revellers’ Mass, one of their 2019 touring productions. In this case, they were greeting partners as they met from opposite sides of the stage; what might start with a handshake or a high five becomes a back roll, jump or cartwheel. They also learnt a to dance part of the show, quite a gestural section that the children performed with real earnestness.
I’ve gone into so much detail about the “quick sharing” because I also ended up taking my sons to see National Dance Company Wales perform Awakening, their spring tour at Sherman Theatre, Cardiff. I’d been regretful about my possibly optimistic plan to take them to a night of three contemporary dance works. On the train. For the evening show. They were being boisterous but I’d paid my money so we’d give it a go. I’m so glad we did.
The piece that informed the Dance Days session was the longest of the night, it didn’t have the same visual trickery of the first two (which they loved but I’ll have to write that up separately so this doesn’t become a novella), it was later in the evening, past bedtime and I only had the dregs of the sweeties left. I needn’t have fretted. They were gripped. They gasped a little in delighted surprise and whispered “it’s the same music, we know this!” and subtly echoed the moves on stage that they’d remembered from Dance Days. That connection between physically putting their own bodies into learning moves, exploring the choreographer’s ideas, creatively problem solving then seeing actual real life dancers perform to the same music sparked something in them. Respect for the craft? A connection with the performance? Feeling involved in something exquisite and different? Maybe all of that, maybe none of it but it’s an experience that’s stayed with them.
Dance Days aren’t just for keeno dancing kids. The sessions for ages 7-11 are especially great for kids who are just happy to give something a bit different a go. Head over to the NDCWales website for details of future Dance Days: ndcwales.co.uk (CLUE: there are some coming up at the end of July)
*We were very kindly invited to take part in this event in
return for a review. I bought our own tickets for the show at the Sherman.
Dance Days are well worth the price and they do offer some bursaries if money is
a barrier for you.
I’m Welsh but I’m not a confident Welsh speaker. On the daily, this doesn’t make me ponder on Welshness, on national identity and bilingualism but last week I took my boys to Cardiff Bay for this year’s Urdd Eisteddfod where it felt like a bigger deal on the Maes.
We were non Welsh speakers at a Welsh speaking event in Wales. We had a lovely day and we did feel welcome but also at a remove. I felt like a visitor, an outsider, somehow other.
The Urdd Eisteddfod is one of Europe’s largest touring youth festivals. As well as all of the stalls and activities on the Maes, there are loads of competitions for children and young people in things like singing and dancing following regional rounds. About 15,000 competitors take part through the week. The Urdd was set up to give children and young people the chance to learn and socialise in Welsh.
We toyed with sending the boys to Welsh school back in 2012 but our closest English primary school is behind our house. We cross no roads to get there, I can hear the playground from home and garden and it’s a cracking school.
The seven year old was in his absolute element in the Senedd display of the 2D and 3D art and design competitions. He’s a model making fiend and a puppet fan boy. He was so genuinely impressed with the paintings and drawings “wow, I can’t believe this one only came second, it’s a winner for me”, it was unsurprising when he looked up at me, his eyes glowing with creative crafting ideas and asked “how can I join in Mum?” like it’s Blue Peter and anyone can enter. Sorry babes, you can’t because you don’t go to a Welsh medium school. *insert sad child’s face* That’s where it feels excluding and exclusive. Which is understandable knowing that the Urdd exists for Welsh speaking children.
When I posted about this on Instagram I had a reply from a teacher at an English medium high school who told me that they had pupils compete so it turns out they don’t have to go to Iaith Cymraeg schools to participate. I did not know this. I thought the Urdd Eisteddfodau were a cultural rite of passage that my kids would have no part of in the same way that the opportunity wasn’t there for me as a child who grew up in Wales at English language schools. And that’s as a pupil who did extra Welsh (true story) and chose to do Welsh GCSE and A Level.
My Welsh is OK, I can get by to a limit. If you did A level French, that’s the kind of language vibe. Except it’s not. I’ve got an A Level in it but I don’t only encounter it at the boulangerie on my holidays. I work all over Wales so Welsh is at meetings, seminars, conferences, it’s in the lunch time chats and evening meals out, it’s sprinkled through emails, it’s on print, websites, in theatre productions, social media strategies. And that’s just work.
At the Urdd Eisteddfod we made an effort to use as much Welsh as we could all day. The 10 year old ordered his hot chocolate all by himself and enjoyed his “un siocled poeth”, the 7 year old said “diolch” to pretty much everyone in Cardiff Bay.
They were in awe at how much Welsh I used (my children are very easily impressed) “how did we not know you can speak another language?!” I can’t, I’m really not that confident with it but I do try when I can. I felt guilty and lazy for not using it more at home when I do make the effort in work emails and events. I want to use Welsh with them more at home, beyond our current “nos da cariad” (good night love) and “pwy sy’n barod?” (who’s ready?).
It was a lush day out though, one of those exhausting days where you walk for miles, while away time soaking up live music, have a nosey in every trade stall, race cars in virtual reality, golf, join a band, colour in, trampoline, make a bead bracelet, toast mshmallows and bump into a couple of people you know. As it was free entry this year I treated us to drinks and a fairground ride without the inward panic about spending all of the money.
It felt right to expose the boys to a world where people assume you can speak Welsh, it opens their mind up to realising it’s the first language for some people and it’s alive in Wales, not just something to learn in the classroom.