I think the only way to begin today’s post is with Arlo’s pictorial review of the first show we saw together, ‘Happy face, happy face, happy face, happy face, sleepy face. With hats and pig’. It seems a strikingly apposite response to Brush, Korean theatre company Haddangse’s painted kids show at Assembly Roxy (to see what I mean, just watch the short video-clip below).
The story – approximately, of a young boy who really wants his mother to have another baby and so, encouraged by his grandmother, sets off with his friend (a pig) to collect a sneeze from a giant Buddha – was communicated partly in English, partly in Korean but primarily through physical theatre and some especially endearing use of paper and paint. I have no idea how much of the plot Arlo understood but both he and his younger sister Morven (not yet two) seemed pretty captivated and regularly very amused (happily the musical accompaniment helped mask some of the noisiest bits of Mo’s animated commentary of jumbled word associations and laughing squeals).
A short queue in the rain later and Arlo and I saw our second show, Katie and the Mona Lisa Live. Conscious of the sleepy face that had found its way into Arlo’s first verdict, I was a bit worried he'd be too tired (and thus too crabbit) to make it through two shows in one day. With a penguin biscuit and box of raisins on standby, I prepared myself for some kind of a mid-show meltdown, if not a full blown revolt. But not even the raisins were necessary as Arlo sat still and quiet and smiling throughout. Adapted from one of James Mayhew’s children’s art history story series (which I’d heard of but never actually read), in most respects this was probably the most traditional of the productions we’ve seen so far. Compared to the postmodern black humour of You Look Tasty!, anarchic charm of Mr Tiger and this morning’s faintly psychedelic, Korean performance art quest for 'nose dust', I thought perhaps Katie's elaborately detailed set flats, musical theatre arrangements, slick production and pantomime-esque staging might seem a bit old fashioned. But the notion of something being ‘old-fashioned’ to a four year old is clearly ridiculous. Arlo absolutely loved it, and all of those things could have been exactly what appealed to him most of all.
'Realism' also seems to be an altogether different concept when you are four. 'I liked Katie’s voice the best’, Arlo explained as we walked home afterwards. ‘But at the beginning, I wasn’t sure that she was big enough to be on stage.’
‘What, you mean, at first you thought she really was a little girl?’ I asked .
‘But she was a little girl’ his immediately bewildered and incredulous reply.
Who knows if Kate Hume, the (grown up) actress who plays Katie will ever read this, but if she does, I hope she’ll be pleased to know that when I then asked Arlo how old he thought Katie was, he was fairly confident she was somewhere in the region of five.
'Because I think she’s just a little bit bigger than me' he reasoned, 'Or not that (much) bigger, so maybe she is four as well’.
Talking to a four year old as a credible contemporary seems to me to be no mean feat to pull off as an actor - let a lone a credible contemporary who so regularly breaks into song, steps in and out of Renaissance paintings and flies to Venice on the back of a winged lion. And it got me thinking (again) about what looks or sounds or feels 'real' to an Arlo - what seems possible and what seems plausible - and how any of this relates to all these things we are seeing together on stage.