One day I was in the Tate Modern (always a good beginning). I’ve forgotten why, but there didn’t have to be a reason: we were still in that carefree part with no children, but also quite a way into the part where I wanted them. We wandered into the gift shop downstairs, and found racks upon racks of brightly coloured picture books. They were in gorgeous, hold-your-breath colours, the sort you have to run your fingers over to properly appreciate. Intoxicating, especially then. I found an author I’d never seen before , who’d made a beautiful book full of skies and stars. And a boy, who loved them both. It started, ‘Once, there was a boy’. And the book was by Oliver Jeffers.
‘How to Catch A Star’ was one of the first picture books I bought, the beginning of a hopeful little library waiting for a boy I could read to. Then I got one. I sat him down in front of Oliver Jeffers far sooner than he could really appreciate. We’ve got the whole series now, all with hold-your-breath illustrations. Henry adores them. And I still get a touch of that old anticipation and longing, that shiver of skies and stars, every time I sit down and begin, ‘Ready? Once, there was a boy’.
So you can imagine how delighted we were to discover a new theatre production of ‘Up and Down’ by Ga Ga Theatre. They’re a new theatre company aiming to make theatre outings friendly and welcoming for children. So all their venues are pushchair-accessible, and the productions are forty-five minutes long without an interval. Ours was in a little independent cinema, about a minute from Notting Hill Gate Tube station. We arrived with Henry’s cousin and auntie to an enthusiastic welcome and a giant posterboard of the boy and his penguin, which we managed to knock over seven times in ten minutes. The theatre was one of those with huge, plush red seats and a gilded ceiling, crammed today with mothers and excitable kids. You don’t realise how much you worry about your pushchair getting stuck in a doorway or your toddler trying to sit on someone’s head until, suddenly, you don’t have to.
He didn’t, in any case, because the show was completely delightful. Funny, inventive, and faithful to the whimsical spirit of the books. Two actors played the boy and the penguin, telling the story with the help of giant, cartoony props and Jeffers’ own illustrations moving on a screen behind. It took Henry about half the performance to realise that the people jumping on stage were pretending to be the characters, but he was enthralled from beginning to end. I had to tell him that ‘peggwin’ had gone home for his dinner just to get him out of there. I was afraid he’d park up next to the checkers board and never leave.
There’s something quite lovely about seeing a favourite book opened up so beautifully in front of you. Given half the chance I would have stepped inside it myself, tucked us in with a blanket and said ‘Alright. Ready? Once, there was a boy’. Then up and up we’d spin to skies, and stars, and everything in between.
‘Up and Down’, Ga Ga Theatre, various London venues till 3rd November.
Ga Ga Theatre kindly provided us with free tickets for today. But the opinions (and enthusiasm) are mine. Henry’s too. Even with the prospect of chicken nuggets before him, he wouldn’t stop talking long enough to eat them.