It’s a sunny day and Reuben and I are on a mission. It will involve wizard trains, singing flowers and a pirate ship and we’re still planning on getting back in time for nursery at 1. That’s the kind of determination that sees us on a packed commuter train at 8.45. Stuck on Clapton marshes. Everyone was getting tetchy but it couldn’t spoil our respective good moods. While the business people around us tutted and sighed, we looked over the prickly green fields, where it seems like London has finished forever, and speculated on why rail tracks are made of rocks. Anyone know?
Eventually we made it into Liverpool St and skipped towards Bank to catch that most exciting of all trains…The wizard train. It’s a fair trek through Bank station to find it, and we passed several “way out” signs. Or at least it felt like a lot when Reuben read every one out loud and asked whether we were getting out that way. I pointed out that we hadn’t got on the train yet, which you generally do before trying to exit the tube system, but we’d walked far enough to feel like we didn’t need a train. Of course, with the wizard train it’s less about need and more about want…You could entertain a small child all day by riding round with no particular place to be. In fact that’s probably the best way to ride it. If you do have somewhere to be, it can feel meandering and infuriatingly slow. But we had just enough time, even with the delays, so we held on tight for the uphill ride, “wheeeeed” round corners, spotted boats and generally had a lovely time. We reached Cutty Sark with a little less time than was ideal but that would be fine as long as we didn’t have 120 steps to climb, followed by an oyster pad treasure hunt.
Kids, when the signs say “Escalator out of order, follow signs to lift” for goodness’ sake follow the signs to the lift. We didn’t think the stairs looked too high so started up them, along with a pair of similarly ambitious pensioners. That none of us had a heart attack on the way is a testament to both the personal training skills of Alice Becker and some True British Grit. To add insult to calf ache, we couldn’t touch out at the top and so had to follow the road round to the right, then go through the arcade to find the other end of the station. It was by the lift. Remember – follow the signs to the lift.
Our end destination was in sight and it was the Greenwich Theatre, for a show called “Mrs McMoon”. It’s part of the Children’s Theatre Festival there and it’s playing til Sunday. After that it goes on tour, so you can catch it wherever you are. I didn’t quite know what to expect. Its description of a Scottish granny baking and talking gave me a kind of “Katie Morag” vibe and I thought it would be gentle, sweet and even a little quiet for Reuben. It was actually a lot more physical than that, with lots of participation from the assembled 3-5 year olds. Quiet it was not.
The experience started in the foyer, where you’re handed a invitation to a tea party at Mrs McMoon’s and advised to bring plenty of silliness. Well, I hadn’t realised I needed to pack anything but luckily silliness is one thing we generally have with us anyway. We admired the giant bear (above) and then went through to the bar area, where there was colouring to do..so Reuben drew a funny face which, as instructed, we later tweeted to Mrs McMoon herself.
A few minutes later we were invited into to Mrs McMoon’s house, where we found the lady herself, snoring away in her polka dot chair, muttering to herself. The space was surprisingly intimate – just ten or so chairs around the edge, with a space in the middle for the kids to sit. There was nowhere to hide, as one mother found out when Mrs McMoon woke up and stumbled over to sit on her knee. This was a show where everyone would get involved, which kids, of course, adore. There was slapstick, there was improv and there was the great panto staple of “I’m leaving some biscuits here…call me if anyone goes near them.” That in particular went down with some of the kids, who just relished the idea of telling tales. After Mrs McMoon’s cousin Gilbert fed some to his puppet pet Cyril, one girl stood up and told Mrs McMoon not just that someone had stolen the biscuits but precisely who it was and why. She has the makings of a good prefect. Incidentally, Gilbert bore an astonishing resemblance to Mrs McMoon herself, as did the other relatives that turned up. You have to worry about the size of the gene pool up there in rural Scotland.
Needless to say, those biscuits got eaten a lot and every time, Mrs McMoon replaced them with a sprinkle of flour, an egg and a little song. And through some kind of stage management magic, they cooked before she could even finish her Highland Fling. The kids were astounded. Every time.
There were some brilliant moments, some staged (the singing flowers), some unintentional (the oven door falling open that bit too early). There was a great bit where a bit of banter with the parents led to the answer every one-woman-showster must dread. “What do you do?” she asked a Dad. “I’m an actor” he replied.
There are two ways you could go with this….Either get paranoid that he’s professionally critiquing your every move and avoid eye contact from then on….Or just pick on him all the more. Guess who ended up with a handful of jelly? Of course I spent a few moments wondering whether he was someone I recognised and concluded probably not…But someone turned up later who I assumed was his mother and she did look very familiar. I try not to celeb-spot too much on this blog, especially when celebs are off duty, but if anyone knows who she was, do send me a PM. I’m dying of curiosity.
But back to the show – it was a lot of fun. Reuben jumped up and said random things every so often (“I know your name from Happy Families” was quoted on Twitter) but Mrs McMoon coped well with it all, as well as the girl at the front who – having told tales on cousin Gilbert – begged her not to open the door again, because she just couldn’t be responsible for the biscuits again, with all these naughty relatives wandering around. Actress Katie Grace Cooper handled the tricky preschool crowd with aplomb, changing characters with head-spinning frequency and never going out of character even through technical glitches. I expected it to be a gentle cuddle of a show, but it was a big, mad, comfy bearhug with eggs and flour tossed around with gay abandon. At the end, just when I was thinking I actually did fancy a cuppa, her assistant appeared with a tray of teas for the adults, while Mrs McMoon distributed home-made biscuits and balloons among the kids. It was a great way to end a great show that we both could have happily sat through for far more than 45 minutes.
But it was time to get back on the wizard train, with a quick stop to look at the Cutty Sark itself. Roo insisted it was a pirate ship and I couldn’t be bothered to argue. We jumped onto the front of the train, pretended to drive and then Reuben hit a slump and wanted to play the CBeebies app all the way back to Bank. I was enjoying driving the train though…
How to top it all off before dumping him at nursery and heading off to work for the afternoon? Well, a chorizo wrap and some Burger King fries of course. Lunch of champions…