It’s hard to critique children’s theatre without engaging with what is expected of children’s theatre. All evidence to the contrary, critics are not children. We shouldn’t presume to speak blithely on behalf of children. So, before looking at Imaginary Theatre’s Look for 2-5 year olds, I need to ask: what is children’s theatre expected to do?
Inherently, I think it’s expected to entertain children. That simple expectation forces me to ask, however – why theatre? What does theatre offer in the way of children’s entertainment that other forms of children’s entertainment do not or can not? To my mind, physical spectacle and evocative insight.
In an ideal world, I’d expect children’s theatre to offer a uniquely tactile experience of spectacle that gives them some insight into a larger world. While entertaining them. In short; I’d expect children’s theatre to do for children what ‘adult’s‘ theatre does for adults. Those standards established; I can say I think Look is a truly wonderful children’s work.
Really, just a truly wonderful work. The appeal of the craftsmanship isn’t limited to young people (though they did – and will continue to – love it). For example, the work begins by immediately creating a pretty magical space for the audience – Imaginary Theatre erected an entire venue made of felt (and full of cushions and ambient music) to stage their work.
Quite savvily, they’ve nicked the best elements of both experimental and conventional theatre. Look has all the technical wizardry and creative design of contemporary work (Thom Browning’s score a particular delight) – but employs it in service of a rock-solid, well-crafted and character-driven narrative.
That narrative is a real wonder, too. It’s not tremendously complex. It basically involves a burgeoning friendship between two characters. However, it’s got a fantastic structure and a genuinely surprising thematic richness, given its simplicity. It boasts a strong message without getting bogged down in over-simplified moralising.
It’s far gentler than a lot of entertainment. It doesn’t endorse or argue. It simply suggests to an audience that there’s nothing wrong with exploration, imagination and fun. You could go a lot deeper with an analysis of it (for switched-on adults, there’s some nice shades of Camus and Sartre woven into the play’s premise) but that’d obscure the point.
Look is not some heavy-handed treatise on joy in relation to existentialism for children. I’m not writing about the considerable technical or creative heft of the work to establish it as a somehow more worthy work for children to see. I’m writing about the technical creativity and thematic complexity to underline that it’s a more rewarding work for children to see.
Look is a very joyful and immediate work. There is colour and movement; imagination, silliness and fun. It will easily entertain your children. However, again, you have to ask the question – why theatre? Why go to the theatre to entertain your children? If there’s an answer to that question, it’s Look.
Look doesn’t just entertain. It encourages. It stimulates and amazes. The climactic spectacle will dazzle you as much as your kid. Children will leave Look with imaginations afire. In short; Look will do for your child what the very best theatre does for you.
Imaginary Theatre presents
Venue: Turbine Studio | Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: 20 – 31 August, 2013