Why would I do that? There is a recent report which says that taking them to the theatre or museum won’t improve their GCSE results, so why bother?
There is and very silly it is, as if anybody buys tickets to see Frozen or Matilda only with the idea that it might make a difference to their offspring’s grades at GCSE. You go to see those shows to have a great family night or afternoon out together that you will all remember. My kids are long grown up, but they still talk about some of the shows we saw together when they were small. Regular theatre going may have done absolutely nothing for their GCSE results but they could win Mastermind with The Lion King as their special subject. But most of all we savour those shared memories.
Yeah, I know, it’s all about making memories. But you do expect some return on the outlay?
It depends on what you mean by return. An evening at the theatre seeing a show such as The Ocean at the End of the Lane or Frozen or Mary Poppins can be transforming in many ways, and not just on your bank balance. Theatre is enriching in different ways: the simple experience of experiencing Frozen performed by live actors in an auditorium with lots of others is entirely different to experiencing it through a screen. You only have to stand outside Theatre Royal Drury Lane when the Saturday matinee comes out to watch lots of little Elsa’s and Anna’s skipping down the street to see the show delivers something money can’t buy: joy. Why wouldn’t you want to give your kids that?
OK I buy that idea, but is taking kids to the theatre educational?
We all need many different types of education. Reading a book together is educational but it’s not the reason we read our kids and grandkids bedtime stories. We do it because it’s fun. It brings us together. It is a shared experience. But if you insist on research then there is good evidence is that going to the theatre increases empathy, the ability to see life from somebody else’s perspective. And there is a lovely study that shows that when audiences are watching a show and are engaged their hearts start beating together as one. So maybe theatre might not ensure an A grade, but it may add to empathy and emotional intelligence.
Production image from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, photo by Tristram Kenton.
So many West End family shows are adaptations, why can’t we just stay home and read the book?
Of course, you could, but one of the brilliant things about shows such as Matilda or The Ocean at the End of the Lane is that they don’t try to replicate the original books but reimagine them for the stage. So, plenty of elements will be familiar but they some offer surprises. I reckon that the RSC’s Matilda is actually better than the original because it gives Matilda greater agency. All children spend some time at school considering the many different versions there are of fairy tales so what better than Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella which offers a slyly alternative take on a well-known story?
My kids are quite small and the last two years means they haven’t been in large gatherings much, is there something for them?
Why not try the Polka in Wimbledon (currently How to Hide a Lion for the 3–6-year-old age group) or the Unicorn at London Bridge (currently Wild for ages 2 - 6 and Gulliver's Travels for those 7 and up). Both pint-sized theatres with gallons of ambition who cater for older children as well, but pretty well always have something for the smaller members of the family which isn’t a TV spin-off.
What about the early teens?
Well, there are plenty of shows which don’t call themselves family shows but which fit the bill. Six at the Vaudeville certainly offers an alternative view of history and is lots of fun. To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud will be knotty and satisfying for the over-12s. A Monster Calls coming up at the Rose in Kingston is an emotionally satisfying show about dealing with grief and death, Life of Pi at Wyndham's is a brilliant piece of storytelling and if you're thinking about Shakespeare then look to the Globe where the summer season opens soon and is a a good place to encounter the plays.
Cover image from Matilda, photo by Manuel Harlan.