An illustration in a Welsh love spoon design that incorporated a cauldron, a celtic symbol, a hare's head, a fish and a baby. In the top left are logos for Taking Flight and Park and Dare Theatre. In the bottom right are the words First Three Drops.
theatre, Things To Do

Virtual Theatre Tour Coming to the Vale

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.

A laptop screen in a living room split into 4 screens, each shows an actor creating a scene from the story, one has a peg climbing a wire attached to a cheese grater, another has a laughing actor with two giant broccoli trees.
First Three Drops is a live virtual theatre show performed through Zoom

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:

https://memoartscentre.co.uk/Shows/first-three-drops/

Sunday 22nd November 2020 11am / 2pm

Watch the trailer for First Three Drops

theatre, Things To Do, top tips

Cheapskate Top Tips for Theatre Trips

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.

1. Groups

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

6. Gifted

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

8. Concessions

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).

The words BOX OFFICE glow in lights on the side of a wooden shed.
Talk to the staff in Box Office about any deals on offer, competitions and membership schemes that all help save money on tickets too.

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.   

theatre, Things To Do

Review: Discover Dance

Last night (Friday 9th February 5pm) we had an after school theatrical treat, discovering dance with National Dance Company Wales at Sherman Theatre. I was accompanied (as ever) by my 11 year old stepdaughter and 9 and 5 year old sons. None of them go to dance classes but they all enjoyed the event. Even surly Nine who didn’t want to join in the first half “no way”.

NDCWales’s Discover Dance production is a game of two halves. We kick off with an introduction from the effervescent Lee Johnston, the company’s Rehearsal Director which she explains is like being the coach. We’re taken through the dancers’ warm up routines with a chance for everyone who’s up for it  to join the dancers on stage.

It’s a credit to the team and the welcoming, open tone they set that so many of the children in the audience were keen to have a go. Eleven and Five threw themselves into the opportunity. As Five said:

“It was really fun to go on stage. I’ve never been on a big stage like that. Sometimes I get nervous but the dancer made me feel happy because they showed me the moves. I think all the other children enjoyed it too.”

We swiftly move on to some exercises and sections of Folk, the production we’re treated to in the second half. Again, we’ve got the chance to join in and one of the exercises in particular fired up my boys:

Nine: “It was really satisfying when they did the crackling out of the ice. That’s the kind of movement game I’d like to play at home or school.”

Five: “Also Mum I liked the bit when they were doing hurricane bits. I liked the bits where he finished one of them, he keeped quiet for a little bit then he said loudly “Crazy crazy! There’s a tornado! Then you can just feel the snow melting and the ice in the water.””

We get to wave at the techies at the back of the seats as Lee tells us about the lights and sound that play their parts in a show. It’s a great way to highlight the whole range of skills and roles that are needed to pull a production together.

Nine: Charlie was the boss of the music and Adam was in charge of the lights.

Five: They did a really good job.

Half time comes and we break for an ice cream from the mid-refurb Sherman foyer, wees and a chance for the dancers to get changed and ready for their performance.

The second half is a half hour dance piece called Folk which absolutely flew by. Choreographed by Caroline Finn, it’s a perfect choice for a family audience with characters that feel both otherworldly and recognisable and a beautifully striking set designed by Joe Fletcher.

Nine: “Folk was quite cool because the tree was hung from the roof. This woman was randomly speaking Italian and it was quite funny. It was quite witch-like when they were doing the witch circle.”

Five: “It was spectacular! I liked the show when it was nearly at the end because I like imagination. And I liked the other bit when there was a teensy bit left to the end because it was just like a made up language and it was really funny.

It was great because I like puppet shows, they were making them look like puppets because they were copying. (*Nine demonstrates the moves we learnt in our seats during the first part of the show*).

The whole thing used up lots of funny imaginations. Whoever’s imaginations they were, I like their imaginations.

The music, it was good because I liked the one where it was sort of harmony like sort of calm. The beginning sounded like they were definitely in France and then there was some music that made me feel in the jungle and then Tokyo, is that the capital of Japan?”

Eleven: “It was really fun. I thought the show was really good and I loved the music.”

After Folk, the dancers return to the stage to answer questions from a buzzing audience. “Where are you from?” “When did you start dancing?” “What’s your favourite type of dance?”

Nine: “It was great because you could ask questions at the end so we could find out where they came from and how they started dancing. They were from lots of different countries, even America.”

Watching dance is a fabulous way to inspire keen dancers but it’s also brilliant for kids in general. There’s room for imagination, the chance to weave your own story, to laugh at something because it tickles your funny bone without words or slapstick.

Wales should be very proud of their dance company. They’re presenting beautiful work and stirring a love of dance. Discover Dance is an ideally relaxed way to introduced new audiences to contemporary dance and gives young people a chance to interact with the professionals.

Five: “I’d like to watch more dance because it’s funny sometimes and you get to do lots of different moves and when you dance it’s kind of like doing exercise and it’s good for you because it helps you stay healthy.”

Nine: “I’d like to watch more dance because it can be strange in certain ways and funny. It was very weird because usually you’d have a tree on the ground and you wouldn’t use a brush to sweep leaves, you’d use a rake.”

We were also intrigued to get a sneaky peak at the developments in Sherman Theatre’s foyer, which got a thumbs up from hard to please Eleven: “I LOVED the redecorating, it feels cosy but big too.” We’re big fans of the venue, their range of family friendly productions and the utterly awesome Sherman 5 scheme that has genuinely opened up the doors to so many people.

Discover Dance is touring the UK this spring, heading to Huddersfield, Brecon, Shrewsbury, Aberystwyth, Newtown, Mold, Newport, Swansea and Derby. Full tour dates on www.ndcwales.co.uk.

theatre, Things To Do

Christmas Show Overload

A trip to the theatre is a real festive treat. I know I go to a heck of a lot of live shows all year long because of work but there really is something magical in dragging the entire family to watch a classic children’s story or fairy tale come to life. It feels decadent and wholesome, charming and silly. It doesn’t have to mean panto and it doesn’t have to mean spending shedloads of money.

Family Friendly Shows in Cardiff and the Vale this Christmas

Sherman Theatre

Wind in the Willows / 1 – 30 December

£16 – £26 Range of prices. Previews (1 – 3 December) are cheaper so worth checking out. Under 25s are half price.

We’ve loved the annual Sherman Christmas show for many years and this sounds like it’ll hit the spot again. The classic Wind in the Willows story by Kenneth Graham will be brought to life with live music. There’s a lovely option to have a letter from Father Christmas for your child on their seat when you arrive. There are also accessible performances including Relaxed Performances.

The Magic Porridge Pot / 3 November – 30 December

£9. Recommended for ages 3-6.

Perfect for under 7s this show is overflowing with songs, music and fun. It’s a classic fairy tale by The Brothers Grimm, retold by the very funny Alun Saunders.

Chapter

The Giant Who Had No Heart in his Body / 22 – 23 December

£5. £17 family ticket. Aimed at ages 7+ but a comedy show for all ages. (Wins the CHEAPEST TICKETS award from me.)

A warm, funny show with original music, puppetry and a sprinkling of magic. Likely Story Theatre bring their unique story telling style to this classic Norwegian fairy tale. A story of friendship, courage, adventure, an umbrella cow, a giant’s heart and a silly duck.

Wales Millennium Centre

The Bear / 12 – 31 December

£10. Babes in arms tickets £2. Recommended for age 3+.

Based on the Raymond Briggs storybook this is a really lovely theatre show for children and their families. It’s only 55 minutes long so perfect for younger kids. It’s in the Wales Millennium Centre’s smaller studio space, the Weston Studio rather than the huge auditorium. The Centre are holding free Christmas crafting activities too so you can spend longer in the building. I walked through the building this week and it’s looking amazing with all the decorations.

Second Star to the Right  / 30 November – 2 December

£9. Under 6s are £6 and under 2 year olds are FREE. Recommended for everyone, all babies welcome.

A cast of disabled and non-disabled performers from Odyssey and pupils from Woodlands High School restore hope to Neverland in this new production.

The Gate

Hansel and Gretel / 2 December – 16 December (Fridays and Saturdays only)

£8.50/£8 for adults and £6 children.

The classic Grimm fairy tale is brought to life with puppetry and music from Black RAT. We’ve seen a fair few of this company’s Christmas shows over the past 7 years and the songs and humour have been a hit with the children.

Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama

Cinderella / 3 – 5 December

£10. Under 16s are £8.

For something a bit different, try out this introduction to the orchestra for an age old fairy tale. Cinderella as you’ve maybe never experienced before with music, film and illustrations.

St David’s Hall

Tiddly Prom: Bert and Cherry’s Christmas Plum Pudding / 16 December – 19 December (10.30 and 12.30 each day)

£7.50

Ideal for under 5s, you can expect lots of silly songs to sing along to, a lively festive story and a large helping of musical plum pudding.

Ballet (3 different shows: The Nutcracker, Cinderella and Swan Lake) / Cinderella 19 – 20 December / The Nutcracker 21 – 24 December / Swan Lake 27 – 31 December

Ticket prices vary. Lowest is £8.25 for under 16s and £16.50 for adults at the 2pm matinees with a family ticket (2 adult and 2 children) for £46.50.

The Nutcracker, Cinderella and Swan Lake are also all at St David’s Hall in December. The Russian State Ballet and Orchestra of Siberia bring these 3 classic and enchanting ballets to Cardiff. There are lots of offers on including a multi-ballet saver. If your child is into ballet and has never seen a live performance, this could be a really special experience watching a popular ballet with recognisable music. The Nutcracker is set at nightfall on Christmas Eve and is perfect for this time of year.

*

If you’re really gagging for a full on Panto experience, here you go, these are for you. Oh no they aren’t. Oh yes they are.

New Theatre

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs / 9 December – 14 January

Cheapest standard ticket is £13. Family Offer 4 tickets for £79 (only some shows). There are about a billion different ticket price options so check with the box office what’s best for you.

It’s panto as you know it, big costumes, big sets and big names. This year’s includes Gareth Thomas, Mike Doyle, Samantha Womack and Chico!

Memo Arts Centre, Barry

Snow Queen “A Frozen Tale” / 14 – 17 December

£13. Children £11. Family group £45.

Barry’s amateur dramatic drama company BillBoard Ensemble are back at the Memo with panto. This year’s is based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale of the Snow Queen featuring songs from Disney’s Frozen.

Paget Rooms, Penarth

Beauty and The Beast / 7 – 10 December

£10. Children £8.

Penarth Operatic and Dramatic Society return with their annual family pantomime.

Jack and the Beanstalk / 4 – 10 January

£14. Children £8. Family £42.

Owen Money heads up this panto from Rainbow Valley Productions. It will be in Penarth following a tour of South Wales.

 

Let me know what you think of these if you get to any of them and if I’ve left any out!

 

 

theatre, Things To Do

Sci-Fi Treasure Hunting in Blackwood – Project: Oggbots

Today, I went hunting for a professor and a crazy artist while dodging shady agents on the streets of Blackwood on a mission to save some aliens.

True story. I took my nine and five year olds to help with the mission. They flipping loved it. They’ve seen more theatre than most kids could shake a stick at but this interactive intergalactic family adventure made a huge impression on them.

We started in the library, getting the back story and some essential training in observation and evasion tactics. Over an hour later we were working on circuit boards in a secret location. The boys were thrilled with the extra-terrestrials and electronics..

“I hope we get to go to another one like that soon!” – the nine year old said at bedtime.

Project: Oggbots is a show for 7-11 year olds by Root Experience. It’s only on for one more day but with plenty of times to choose from. Book your tickets with Blackwood Miners’ Institute:  Blackwood Miners’ Institute website or go old school and phone the box office 01495 227 206.