When I was invited to watch a West End in Schools pantomime rehearsal in London on an INSET day, it was a great opportunity to have a day out with my son - minus the school holiday crowds.
He doesn’t cope well in busy or loud places. Or perhaps I don’t cope well with looking after him in busy situations? I’ve lost him twice in recent months during day trips to London – once to the point of people with walkie-talkies initiating a lost child protocol!
But my son was born in London and seems to have an innate love of the city despite the hustle and bustle. He even likes the journey to get there - the ‘Stupid Little Biscuit’ he gets from a coffee vendor at our local train station kicks the whole thing off in a positive manner as far as he is concerned!
Like most parents, I rely on a steady stream of snacks to distract my children in situations that require good behaviour! So, with a backpack full of a range of snacks that I reckoned would be quiet enough to consume during a rehearsal, we set off for London.
To be honest my main concern was not losing him – again. It was something else. He struggled all through nursery and even struggles now in Reception class at school to sit still and concentrate. That is, unless the topic is his latest obsession, Star Wars.
He can also be reluctant to join in with group activities in unfamiliar situations. Instead he tends to jitter about in his own little world. He is apparently still (three months in) a bit of a bystander in the sports activities they do at school, despite normally loving to run and jump about all over the sofas of Surrey!
To add to all of that, we’d just left his Dad, having had lunch together and seeing his Dad’s office for the first time (one of his lifelong ambitions!). He loved that so much that he was in tears as he and I headed to the rehearsal alone; “I miss Daddy”, he cried.
So, how would he cope in a small (and frankly hot) rehearsal room? Would we distract other people? Would we produce too much background noise? Would we have to make a polite excuse to slip out of the room? Would I get to see the end of the show?!
As young audiences go, he’s probably what you’d call a tough crowd! And I’m obviously one of those annoying worrying mums fussing about in the background trying to create the elusive perfect INSET day!
God – who invited them?!
Anyway, we had a warm welcome and settled into our seats to watch a rehearsal of Jack and the Beanstalk. The show is performed by talented West End theatre professionals, a boy and a girl. The set is simple and the props are ingenious. The music, moves and singing are all perfect for audience participation. So what happened next?
It was pretty amazing from the off. My son sat still. Almost completely still! And I never had a moment to consider subtly smuggling him a snack to pacify him. For the whole hour we were both unequivocally focussed on the actors. We laughed, enjoyed the music, joined in - and at least one of us was gazing up and shuddering with excitement when the giant made himself known!
When it finished my son asked if he could see it again! Imagine that…a four year old wanting to do something more than once, in close succession, that isn’t on an i-pad! West End in Schools talk about panto magic – I’d call that a panto miracle!
The best and most unexpected aspect of today was that just before bed tonight after a really long day out, he suddenly decided to treat us to a show of his own! This has possibly happened once before in four (and three quarter – don’t forget that important detail Mum) years.
He instinctively involved his younger brother and together they told a short story with plot narration, puppetry, dance and singing! And guess what – it wasn’t about Star Wars. Miracle upon miracle!
I think it’s safe to say that Jack and his beans inspired my boy to grow. Thank you West End in Schools.