I want you to flashback with me to when I was at a famous Birmingham Rep schools’ Christmas play. It’s a very long way: I want you to flashback three whole days.
I don’t remember whether my own school took us to plays when I was there but then I didn’t like my school and my school didn’t like me so we just made a pact not to bother each other much. Whereas I think from the uniform colours that on Wednesday the majority of two primary schools were taken to the Rep.
Angela and I inadvertently went with them all to see The One Hundred and One Dalmatians, adapted from Dodie Smith’s novel by Debbie Isitt and directed by Tessa Walker. We went because we wanted to see it, we went on Wednesday afternoon because we wanted to see it on Angela’s birthday and there was no evening performance that day.
One school took up all the seats toward the front of the auditorium and the other took all of them toward the back. The Rep put us in the single line between the schools, like it was a neutral zone.
Look, the short version of this is that I urge you to go see this play and the only ever so slightly longer version is that I demand you see it with several hundred schoolchildren. Plus a dozen or so battle-worn schoolteachers.
I did feel for those. Outside the theatre, those hundreds of individual kids were one single, continuous roar. It was spooky: any one child you looked at was probably not saying anything but the noise was one single unbroken wall of sound.
Until the play started. The One Hundred and One Dalmatians runs for something like two hours with an interval and the show had those kids from the very start to the very end. Total command of their attention.
I’ve worked with kids of this age and I know that getting their attention and keeping it is damn hard. So I was admiring the play for that until I forgot because it totally commanded my attention too.
I’ve often seen theatre that’s meant for children, sometimes for work, sometimes just because it was the Christmas show, and every time I’ve thought the same thing. I have thought how glorious it must be to be a child experiencing this. Theatre is genuinely magical when you are exactly the right age to be swept away and to have these moments that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
It just turns out that the exact right age is 52.
The play has the Birmingham Rep’s typically brilliant set but it also bursts out with characters appearing way up in the auditorium. And I tell you, when Cruella De Ville appeared at the end of our row, I was actually scared.
Isn’t this just fantastic? Hang on, let me check something. Right, The One Hundred and One Dalmatians is on at the Birmingham Rep until Saturday 13 January. Go book at least one performance right now.