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Children at the theatre.

November 18, 2015

Pantomime season ahead. Oh yes it is! The usual, and indeed perfect, introduction to theatre for generations of children, long before Nica Burns filled Nimax Theatres with school-holiday child-friendly fare.

It’s the one time I agree everything should be relaxed – knowing there is going to be noise and excitement. Saying that, when I went to the panto for the first time in years last year, the behaviour was better than I expected – and better than I’ve experienced at some “adult” shows.

Still, taking kids to theatre that is “age appropriate” has to be important. Long speeches full of complicated language bore some adults, so how will a 5 year old cope? And if you don’t want your bratty annoyance – er, little darling – loudly asking “what’s footsie?” to the amusement of those around (at you getting your comeuppance for bad behaviour as much as the comment), then it’s time to wise up, parents.

Some things are blindingly obvious. You don’t take your under 12 to “The Nether,” a play about internet paedophilia. Every sane parent knows that some subject matter has to be introduced later in life.

Similarly, if a show is “suitable for 3 to 5 year olds” then your 18 month old is unlikely to really “get” it – and your 7 year old will probably stage a revolution.

That said, I’ve also seen 8 year olds entranced by “King Lear,” and an 11 year old making more intelligent observations about “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” than the adult he was with.

Only parents really know their own children, and can decide if the content is going to engage them, and if they know that it is, then it’s half the battle.

The other half, really, has to be preparation. Setting the scene beforehand is great. Make sure they know the story, play them the music… and talk about what to do (and not) in a theatre. Treat it like a classroom during a test or school assembly is the nearest comparison.

Be clever too about seats. Circle seats have steps between, so youngsters can see more easily over adults ahead. Go for seats with nothing in front, aisle seats, and arrive early to nab booster cushions (or buy one / stick a folded coat under the kid). If you can find out where the exit doors are, and you know your kid needs to make a fast exit sometimes – even better.

Don’t spend a fortune on tickets. Lay out £240 on an “Elf” ticket, just to have your kid squirm for three hours? You could go to your local panto for £15, and then to Disneyland Paris on the remainder of the cash.

Do, though, take your children to see live shows – it could change the direction of their lives as much as it did mine.

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