Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Vicarious Tourism: A Day At The Theatre

Who doesn't love London? Every time I come back to this city, I remember how much I miss it. I miss catching the District Line to Wimbledon to visit the Husband...before he was the Husband. I miss the sardines-in-a-can trip on the Bakerloo Line to school and the subsequent walk back through Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall, and Hyde Park. I miss going on runs through Regent's Park and having all the museums within a stone's throw of my flat. And I miss living just a few blocks north of Oxford Street and all its attendant shopping.

So today, when we got the chance to go back into town for a kid-friendly play, how could I pass it up?

They could barely contain their excitement at the District Line.
My sister-in-law had managed to score four free tickets for a little production at a snazzy cinema in Notting Hill. We drove to a little car park in West London - me, Ethan, Henry, Rachel, and Tim (who swiftly absconded for work) - and then made our way to the Tube. The boys were both thoroughly excited to be with each other, and possibly even more excited at the prospect of a ride on a train. They loved the Tube and were all ready when we got off to see the play.

What was the play? A production by the Ga Ga Theatre Company of Oliver Jeffers's Up & Down.

Mummy & Son as Boy & Penguin
picture by Rachel (of Make A Long Story Short); editing by me

By the poster, so excited to go in!

In seats, waiting for the show to start!
picture by Rachel (of Make A Long Story Short); editing by me
The whole thing involved just two actors - mostly playing the Boy and the Penguin, but also doubling as the Circus Master when the Penguin runs off in search of the chance to fly. Plus, what little dialogue there was basically just revolved around the words 'up' and 'down'. Nice and simple. It made the whole thing fairly easy for the little ones to follow. And, to be honest, in a book with no written dialogue, it was nice that they weren't trying to make up lines that sounded like Oliver Jeffers wrote them. I think the whole thing worked better for its target audience and was a better interpretation of the book like this.

The boys loved the interactive bits of the play, and E really got into pointing out the Penguin at every chance he got. We'd even brought his penguin puppet along for the occasion - just to really get in the zone. I don't think I've had a day where I've heard him shout, 'PEG-in! Peg-in!' more often. Plus, with a cute acoustic guitar-centred score and animated versions of Jeffers's original illustrations projected onto the movie screen, the whole thing kept a lot of the same quirky charm that the book had on its own.

Another set of kudos I have to give? Ga Ga Theatre Company have picked out venues that are all kid-friendly and won't flog obvious sweeties or (as their website puts it) 'tantrum-inducing tat' in the lobby. I managed to snag myself a diet Pepsi and crisps for the show, along with one of E's new favourite treats, Bear Yoyos, all without any conspicuous candy-filled displays to tempt either of us. (The candy was there, but was discreetly on a wall behind the bar.) It made me feel unreasonably virtuous to buy my son what amounts to fruit jerky in cute packaging. That little label that says it's one of your 5-a-day always catches my eye. At least it mitigated our trip to McDonald's after the show.
I had pointed out to Rach that there was a McDonald's across the street in case we needed to stuff our faces or placate ravenous toddlers after the show, so a brief stop-off for Happy Meals and chips was a part of our itinerary before hopping on the Tube to go back to the car.

picture by Rachel (of Make A Long Story Short)
The boys got especially excited when one of the ladies on staff gave them balloons to play with. Plus, as Rachel and I both noticed, it's always particularly nice to sit in a well-decorated McDonald's. Makes the whole experience feel so much nicer. As an American, the regularity with which McDonald's restaurants have nice, modern decor over here still impresses me. I never remember eating in a Maccy D's that looked this nice as a kid! (And for those of you travelling, I can tell you this phenomenon holds true in Paris and Vienna as well.)

Munching his yoyo in the cinema lobby & enjoying the London street ambiance.
On the platform at Notting Hill Gate.
Then, it was back out into the rain for another ride on the Tube. The boys loved the whole journey and spent most of the trip standing on their seats and leering out the windows at every passing train and metre of track. E even pretended to be moderately interested when I pointed out that we were riding the train that Mama used to take to see Daddy when we lived in London.

I love that city. It will forever have a special place in my heart. And what SAHM can't appreciate a lovely day out on the town for some quality toddler-friendly entertainment?

Psst! Want to check this awesomeness out for yourself? Time Out has a listing of the remaining performances and all their London locations. Also, Ga Ga Theatre Company didn't give me any perks for writing any of this...I'm just the grateful beneficiary of someone else's good fortune!


  1. Sounds like a perfect day out with a friend and 2 little cutie pies!!!
    I've never been to London but hope to one day!!!
    When I went to France (years ago), we stopped at McDonalds one day because we knew they would have normal plumbing - that place was huge!!!

    1. Kim, it's so true! Towards the end of our honeymoon we stopped in a McDonald's on the Champs Élysées: it had two floors and a long set of bar-style seating in front of a huge window that looked out onto the street! I think it also had free wi-fi. :)