06 August 2011

Old enough for Shakespeare

I remember the first time we took the children to a live theatre event. They were about three and four years old when we went to see 'The Tweenies' at the Manchester Evening News Arena. They were completely enthralled by the performance. So much so that when it was over Child#2 had a massive tantrum, distraught that the show had finished. He refused to walk and had to be dragged, bawling all the way, to the tram stop in Victoria Station. He wasn't much given to tantrums (if my memory is being reliable) and the fact that it was caused by an occasion we thought would be a great treat was particularly galling.

But that was nearly ten years ago and he's grown up a bit now. When I saw that there was going to be an outdoor performance of Macbeth in the County yesterday (performed by the Driftwood Theatre Group), I wondered if the children might like to go and see it. I wasn't sure if they were old enough to appreciate Shakespeare, but thought it worth a try. I'd seen open-air productions of Romeo and Juliet and A Midsummer Night's Dream in Oxford in the 1990s and they'd been excellent. I wasn't expecting to get the chance to relive those experiences out here in rural Ontario.

When I suggested it to the children they were both quite enthusiastic, although their cultural contexts for Macbeth might have given me pause. I asked Child#2 first and he was keen to see it because he'd recently seen an episode of The Simpsons which had featured Homer and Marge as Macbeth and his Lady. When I sounded out Child#1 she immediately thought of an old episode of Blackadder which had featured frequent mentions of 'The Scottish Play' and wanted to see it because of that.

So they both had a context for the play, although I wasn't sure that there were going to be quite as many laughs a minute in the real thing as there had been in the TV shows they'd seen. And sitting through a half-hour comedy is rather different from sitting through a two-hour tragedy. But I thought it was worth a try.

Having learnt from our firework-watching experience on Canada Day, we packed up garden chairs, sweaters and a picnic and made our way to Bloomfield, where we formed part of the very front row on the southeast side of the stage. As the sun went down behind the trees, the performance began and as the play became darker, so did the night.

There were perhaps 200 people in the audience, none of us very far from the stage, and the actors were coming and going all around us, making everyone feel very much part of the performance (if slightly distracted by some persistent mosquitoes and enormous moths). I really enjoyed it and, to my slight surprise, the children said that they did, too. I think it was the immediacy of it that pulled them in: it's very different from watching a play on a distant stage or on a movie screen. There were quite a few children in the audience and (I'm pleased to report) there were no tantrums or even complaints from any of them on this occasion.

1 comment:

Lisa from Iroquois, ON said...

Are you close enough for the drive to Prescott and their Shakespeare by the St. Lawrence productions? They are doing two plays, alternating each night - Twelfth Night and I forget the other one.