Henry VIII, a gingerbread man and a huge hungry tiger – no doubt after some of the specially made birthday cake pictured above – were among the theatrical folk helping Kids Week celebrate its 15th birthday at the family-friendly promotion’s annual launch event yesterday.
It wasn’t all food-related fairytales and mighty monarchs – though King Arthur’s cronies from Monty Python’s Spamalot also made an appearance – as a host of London’s most popular shows gathered at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to give children a taster of what they will be able to see at this year’s Kids Week, our popular annual initiative that offers parents one free children’s ticket for every adult ticket purchased.
The man behind Shrek The Musical’s lovable Donkey, Richard Blackwood, took charge of proceedings at the action-packed event, where his fellow fairytale pals gave a freakin’ good performance of the musical’s hit Freak Flag, the cast of Thriller Live taught the children an altogether different version of the classroom’s ABC and Horrible Histories – Barmy Britain acted out the lives – and deaths – of Henry VIII and his many wives.
Kids Week regular Dominic Ferris was back with a posse of musical theatre stars, leading a competitive sing-a-long including that oh-so-catchy tune from the Lloyd’s TSB advert, while Bonnie Langford and Todd Carty led cast members from Monty Python’s Spamalot through a performance of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, an appropriate and somewhat necessary sentiment given the disheartening deluge of rain that was falling outside.
Every year, Kids Week aims to reinforce the importance of getting children involved in the performing arts, and, at this year’s launch, one plucky young girl became more involved than she had expected. Her spontaneous on-stage rendition of Jessie J’s Price Tag knocked Blackwood off his feet – of which he only had two on this occasion – saying of her performance: “I think that kind of stole the show, which is good because it gave the kids a chance to be a part of it… now she knows that she’s got the capability to do it as opposed to just watching it.”
For children who aren’t looking to pursue a long-term career in the theatre, Neil McDermott, who plays the vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad alongside Blackwood’s fast-talking Donkey, was on hand with some advice on how the performing arts can be beneficial in other ways: “I used it as a growing tool for confidence. I think it’s a useful thing for people to come out of their shell, or just practice public speaking because, in life, whatever job you go into, even if you’re not an actor, you need those kind of skills, you need to be able to speak in front of people.”
This year, Kids Week is part of the London 2012 Festival, and as Top Hat’s leading man Tom Chambers explained, the performing arts are a great way of getting that pulse racing: “Doing eight shows a week and doing six days a week in this particular part is so physically demanding that it’s like running a marathon in a day. I feel like one of the athletes in 2012.”
The deafening cheers that filled the auditorium were a clear indication of how much the children enjoyed the event, but it’s not only the children themselves who appreciate their presence at the theatre. The most recent addition to Shrek The Musical’s swamp-dwelling team Carly Stenson explained how rewarding it is to perform in front of a young audience: “In Shrek, to look at [the children’s] faces when the dragon flies out and when the confetti comes down at the end, it makes my night… it’s an escapism… a wonderland for them.”
Thanks to Kids Week, this wonderland is free for children throughout August, something that The Wizard Of Oz’s Sophie Evans is a big fan of: “It’s great that they can have the chance to go for free… it gives [families] the opportunity to come and have a great day out pretty cheaply.”
Though her character Dorothy insists there’s no place like home, it seems that Evans herself believes there’s no place like the theatre, describing her childhood visits as “some of the best experiences ever.”
Tickets are now on sale for Kids Week 2012, which runs from 1 to 31 August. For more information and to book tickets visit www.kidsweek.co.uk