Curtain up for the young ones


Children’s theatre is having a dramatic effect – even on the smallest of babies

WONDERING ABOUT the optimum age to introduce children to theatre, I was surprised to note that Draíocht theatre in Dublin had performances during its children’s festival, Spreacha, for those as young as one. Curious, I took my son Lúí to two shows, Bedtimeand Rain.

At Bedtime, as “Sshh!” reverberated around the room and the lights dimmed, bed sheets became waves, pillows wings, the children laughed aloud as the two characters drank their bedtime milk wiping away their milk moustaches.

Soft footballs were kissed and rocked to sleep like babies. From a box came two characters – finger puppets with eyes that kissed. Bedtime was 30 minutes of imagination and learning wrapped up in a cosy glow.

Kevin Stewart, artistic director of Spanish company, Katarsis, says: “We create based on the pedagogical aspect of learning by association. We do, we show, we do not tell how it is done or show preconceived notions, so that the child expands his or her own imagination without limitations. We leave their imagination to do the work and we encourage reflection.”

Mother-of-two Siobháin Sheehy attended Bedtimewith her 26-month-old daughter, Abaigh Tyrrell. Sheehy and her children are regular theatre goers.

“The children can touch and feel, it shows them that they can, even for a few minutes, become something else,” she says. “For the young ones theatre develops their imaginative play, for older children it broadens their minds.”

Stewart says Katarsis does not create “educational theatre”, but that theatre is educational in itself. Theatre can help children develop their social behaviour by sharing a structured event with other children, develop their imagination, exercise their observation skills and make them feel, react and reflect.

“I asked my son today what he liked most about the theatre and he said: ‘You learn life lessons Mum, like that running away isn’t so easy’,” says Sheehy.

Afterwards, I noticed Lúí playing with his ball, rocking it, kissing it for fun and saying, “I’m Kevin in the show.” He had developed a new way to engage in imaginative play by himself.

After the show the children could investigate the props and set, discovering that they too could make imaginary worlds with ordinary things.

Rainby Danish company Madam Bach was a sensory show. Jars containing water and balls of string hung from umbrella-like structures which had drums made from buckets beneath making the drip, drip sound.

As the rainfall became louder and the storm increased, electric fans with plastic sheets made the sound of thrashing rain, while rumbling thunder was made with a bucket and spring. As the storm abated, gentle rain sounded from a paper umbrella hung with tinkling keys.

I wondered if Lúí was too young for this show. The paddling pools proved irresistible as he struggled to reach them, refusing to sit down, questioning why he couldn’t use the props. However, he still took much away, including a new-found interest in his umbrella which became the wheel of a car and a parachute. Later, when reading he said, “That’s like the storm in the Rain show”, connecting concepts to develop a more joined-up way of looking at the world.

Stewart says it is important to base children’s drama around familiar themes. “To explore those common things that could become something else – the extraordinary arising from the ordinary,” he explains.

-Polyglot Theatre Australia brings We Built This Cityto the Draíocht theatre on Saturday and Sunday. Children can take part in building and knocking down a cardboard box city in this interactive event. Tickets €5. See