Issue date: Thu 17 March 2016
A theatre company nominated for an Olivier Award will open the ninth annual Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival at Greenwich Theatre on Good Friday, March 26.
Les Enfants Terribles - nominated alongside the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch and Nicole Kidman for their show Alice Underground - will present their “weird and wonderful” The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie as the festival starts at the theatre in Crooms Hill.
“We’re absolutely thrilled with the nomination,” said producer James Seager. “We almost didn’t go to the announcement of the nominations but we were persuaded to go, if only to meet people and do some networking.
“It was a real shock when we heard we had been nominated for the family theatre award. It was very humbling, too. We were whisked off to be interviewed by the press and radio, so suddenly it was all very exciting.”
Les Enfants have a long association with Greenwich Theatre and have developed a special rapport with the audience. “It’s a special place for us because it’s a beautiful theatre that suits our shows so well. We do immerse ourselves and our audiences in weird and wonderful shows but the storytelling is at the heart of it.
“We are always thinking of what to do next and pushing ourselves to find new ways of telling stories. What pleases us most is that we attract ages from seven to 77. We heard from one man in his seventies who said three generations of his family attended one show and they all loved it.”
The Marvellous Imaginary Menagerie tells the story of a character called Dr Longitude, who captures people to capture animals for his imaginary menagerie. “It’s very silly but great fun,” said James, “and we love the fact that Greenwich audiences are so quick to get the point and join in the spirit of our shows.”
This year’s Greenwich Children’s Theatre Festival – started by James Haddrell when he became artistic and executive director at Greenwich Theatre in 2007 - has become so big that the programme has had to be split in two.
Working in collaboration with Greenwich Council and Greenwich & Lewisham Young People’s Theatre, the festival will comprise two weeks of professional shows for families at Greenwich Theatre in the two weeks of the Easter holiday, then a week of professional theatre, workshops and activities in Woolwich and around the borough during the May half term holiday.
“Having Les Enfants Terrible opening the programme is perfect,” said James Haddrell. “They are so visually creative and capture the audience immediately. They invariably include some sort of puppetry, their costumes are always larger than life and even when they’re telling a children’s story there’s always a dark tinge to it.
“They really are the ideal company to launch our family festival programme. Their aesthetic is so strong that you know when you are seeing a Les Enfants show, and we’re now seeing the emergence of a whole range of new companies influenced by their work.”
Other highlight include Tucked In’s Leaper: A Fish Tale, which follows one fish’s magical quest against natural and man-made monsters in our seas, Make Do and Mend’s At The End Of Everything Else, a fairy story about the search for a friend with all the actors on bicycles, a new stage adaptation of Emma Yarlett’s Orion and the Dark which will be followed by a book signing, and the return of the hugely popular Comedy Club 4 Kids.
“Every school holiday you can look to Greenwich Theatre for these types of shows and other activities,” said James. “We’re very aware that theatre is under threat across the country with funding cuts and that people have to make more careful choices about spending their money.
“As clichéd as it sounds, the future of theatre lies with children and our job is to get them coming to theatre at the age of four, then seven, 10 and 17. You can lose generations of children if you don’t attract them, and that’s why we work so hard to make this festival more ambitious year on year.”