Today we went on a class trip to the Pavilion Theatre to see a new play for children – Away From Me by Amy Conroy, which is an Ark production on tour.
The set for the play was a large, raised, platform with scaffolding poles at each corner and a metal acrobatic rig on top of the poles. At the back of the stage a city-scape was silhouetted against the wall, showing the big city that Kevin, the main character, lived in. There were white curtains obscuring the stage at the start and as the play began we could see the silhouettes of two acrobats swinging on ropes. The curtain then dropped and the acrobats smiled mischievously at the audience before swinging up to the top of their rig to observe the action.
Kevin King, the main character, entered full of energy and imagination, but we soon realised he was sad because he had fallen out with his best friend Katie. Katie, he told us, was being teased by the other kids for not being normal enough and he thought she should try to fit in. He was also angry with his mum, a nurse, who had to work long hours since his father became sick and “went away”. He knew his mum loved him, but he wished she would spend more time with him like a normal mum and he wished she would stop calling him her little prince!
One day, during a thunderstorm, when Kevin’s mum was at work, Kevin disobeyed her and left the flat to chase the two strange acrobat characters onto the roof and then through a trap door into another world.
In this world Kevin discovered he was actually a prince and everything was perfect. He thought this was fantastic, until he realised the queen, who was very angry for some reason, expected him to marry a princess. Conchita, the queen’s servant, told him that years before his mother had come to the kingdom and had passed a test (a pea under a stack of mattresses). This proved she was a true princess and meant she could marry Kevin’s dad. But then they had left the kingdom, which made the queen very angry. The queen was thrilled that Kevin was back, but if he stayed, he could never go home again. Kevin was torn. The kingdom was perfect, but he started to miss the imperfect world he came from and the imperfect people he loved. And so… Kevin returned home and was really happy to see his mum and decided to apologise to Katie and make up with her.
The cast was made up of four performers; two actors and two acrobats. One actor played Kevin, and the other played all the other parts, although Katie and the queen were never seen and were off-stage characters.
On the trip back the group was talking a lot about the play; about the things they liked and also about some of the things they thought didn’t work. I was sitting behind Fionn and Lucas on the bus, so I asked them what they thought the play was about. Fionn said he thought it was about, ‘how you have to take a step away from something to know what you have’, and Lucas added that he thought it was also about how ‘people should be allowed to be what they want, girls or boys.
Back in school there was a de-brief with the whole class. We started with the things that we liked or that worked for us and we ended up with a long list including; the funky costume and make-up of the acrobats, the acrobatics themselves, the way Kevin mimed everything in the other kingdom, the actor who played all the different parts, the way Kevin described a bike passing like a disco on wheels and made a sound to describe it.
As we were listing things we liked, some questions also came up – ‘why was the play called Far Away From Me? and ‘Who were the acrobats?’
On reflection, the children thought the acrobats were some kind of guardians watching over Kevin, and also guides to the other world. While they thought the title related to Kevin’s journey away from his real world (and himself?) into the other perfect kingdom. This made me think of Fionn’s comment on the bus, about having to ‘step away to know what you have’.
Next we talked about things that maybe didn’t work for us or confused us and again we had an interesting list. We all missed some of the off-stage characters, particularly Katie and the queen, but also Kevin’s dad, and wished they could have been in the play. I asked whether the children would have sacrificed the two acrobats in order to have two more actors, but most of the children were adamant that the acrobats were cool. We then talked a bit about the cost of making a professional theatre show and how the budget may not have stretched to more actors. It was also suggested that the set could have been ‘more interesting’ and that sometimes there were ‘too many words.’
This was a great discussion and a really enjoyable trip to see how a piece of theatre had used an element from an old fairytale (The Princess and the Pea) and created a whole new story. The children felt that the play was a kind of sequel to the fairytale.
Using this as an inspiration point next week we’ll look at other stories we know and how we could adapt them for today or create a sequel.
This Session: A trip to a professional theatre performance. Analytical and critical reflection and discussion