Eileen Caiger Gray reviews Opera North’s Little Big Sing: The Mad Hatter’s Tea-Party at Doncaster Cast (June 21st 2019)
They can be a tough crowd to please, it must be said, those under-5 tots, toddlers and potential stroppy terrors, all the more so in our era of fast-moving, short-focus bites! All the same, highly accomplished professional musicians and performers like those of Ensemble 360 and Opera North are well and truly dedicated to providing tasty slices of tip-top, polished music, laced with interactive fun and games for these very youngsters. They’ve even won awards for it.
Opera North regularly delight motley crews of little ones in their weekly Little Singers sessions, full of song, movement, instruments and activities. For a special summer treat their Little Big Sing features the Mad Hatter’s Tea-Party, based on Lewis Carroll’s evergreen Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where time is beaten – whether it likes being beaten or not – where it’s always four o’clock, and where the dormouse sleeps in the teapot.
As children and their adults enter to chatty greetings from the performers, Alice is there in stripy Alice dress, apron, white tights and trainers beside an attractive table, all set out for tea, and music stands bedecked with fairy lights. Big cushions, strewn on the floor, invite anyone to sit or lounge in relaxed informality unless they prefer a regular seat, while scattered items like long-stemmed flowers and paper plates can be latched onto by tiny fingers, whose owners are free to wander and wonder at will.
As MC narrator (and Mad Hatter) Jenny, takes friendly Scottish charge of the proceedings, interactive songs and warm-ups introduce performers, instruments and audience members. Fascinated, some little eyes rivet on Chris’s trombone as his raspberry-blowing lips and slide-lengthening arm evoke Star Wars, Harry Potter and The Acrobat or serenade with a lullaby; other tots can hardly believe their ears as Charlotte Trepess’ soprano tones fill the air. Elizabeth’s keyboard accompanies as the wheels on the bus go round and round, as the mouse runs up the clock and as the sun puts his hat on, while other songs urge Polly (and other little persons) to put the kettle on, to turn into a teapot short and stout or to get the stars to twinkle, twinkle. Hands are clapped, windscreen wipers are swished, and colourful, floaty scarves are waved and wafted.
Following all the wonderful introductory interactive activities, the Alice story, is pretty ambitious when catering for such a wide age range, given that the first five years of life span a period of such intense, rapid development, both physical and mental. At each performance there’s a unique, unknown combination of babes in arms, relaxed and riveted listeners and wide-ranging ramblers and roamers, each with individual moods and personalities so performers must be ready to respond to anything. And they are – more or less!
Sharing the wonders of live music with these tots is certainly one of the greatest gifts that performers and parents will ever give them.
Audiences in Barnard Castle and Leeds also get to enjoy this event. Details on Opera North’s website www.operanorth.co.uk.