So, I took my six-month old to the theatre the other day, for a lunchtime matinee of Human Child by Collapsing Horse Theatre Company, who were staging a one-off performance before heading to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The show is aimed at an 8+ audience, so I was pretty gobsmacked (and pleased) when the box-office manager asked if I was bringing the children in. (By some miracle, both my charges were asleep in the buggy when I collected my tickets). Granny was coming to take them to the park for an hour, but I decided that if the (breastfed) baby woke up before she arrived I would take my chances and take him in with me. Predictably he did.
The play is inspired by W B Yeats’ famous fairy poem, The Stolen Child, and revolves around a young fantasist who finds herself increasingly excluded at school because she refuses to participate in their ‘real world games’: “Let’s play taxes!” they shout enthusiastically instead. She is constantly being accused of ‘being away with the fairies’ and one day the fairies come for her. She willingly accepts their bargain of a life of nothing but imaginative role-play, but it comes at a price.
The plot of Human Child is overly complex for a young age group, and the best part – the fairies themselves – get lost in a subplot involving a same-sex/different species relationship between a mouse and a bear. The ‘real-life’ sections could do with a good edit too, and although I was impressed by the inventiveness of the puppetry and set design – whose makeshift quality would be particularly appealing to a child audience – I couldn’t help but wonder whether the company had a dramaturg on board who had experience with children’s theatre. Human Child was promising, but with tweaking could have been much more than that.
My infant companion, meanwhile, behaved immaculately during the 50 minute show. He enjoyed the lights, the music, and the shadow play especially. Feeding him got us through the over-stimulated hump, and when he got very fidgety towards the end, I stood in the aisle rocking him until he settled. I was heartened by the fact that there was another woman with an infant in attendance, but disappointed by the fact that these two baby boys were the ONLY children present at all. It is summer, and, yes, the weather is good, but NO CHILDREN AT ALL?
I really admire what Collapsing Horse are attempting to do with their DIY-inspired post-dramatic aesthetic, even if I wasn’t that keen on this latest incarnation. And I hope the lack of children at the show was failure in marketing on their part rather than a reflection of the state of theatre for children in Ireland at the moment.
Incidentally, the experience reminded me of how much I miss going to the theatre, and how easy it would be for theatre companies to accommodate Mums and Babies at matinée performances, in the same way cinemas do. Most people, I believe, I hope, are sensible enough to know if their baby will wear it, and will leave as quietly as possible if they can’t.
Collapsing Horse will perform Human Child at Underbelly, Cowgate, at the Edinburgh Fringe until 24th August.