"Mum, I dreamed no-one came to my party."
A child's worst nightmare, a birthday party without any friends. And in the chaos of the start of a new school year, invites were going out with less than two weeks notice, which accounts for my son's underlying anxiety. In the event, though, we had a good two dozen friends to "the best party ever, thanks" (a game of footie, a slice of pizza, and cake, lots of cake), phew!
Still, my (now) 9 year old son was more than a little predisposed to empathise with Kaveh Rahnama's character in "The Party" this afternoon at Jacksons Lane, (Highgate) who takes this premise of a no-show at a party, and then deals with it. Entertainingly. The presents are stacked, there is a cake to drool over, and people do turn up, but they are strangers, not friends of the birthday boy. And they want to nick his cake. "My Cake!" There is a girl who can fold up into a birthday parcel, a zany Gallic acro-cyclist and a funky chicken (surreal doesn't quite cut it), each swiping gashes of gateau, in their own inimitable, guilty fashion, and chaos ensues. These uninvited guests, though, while cheeky, ultimately work together to put everything right, and the show is a real gem about consideration for others and the joy of friendship. A good life lesson to children - well, here's hoping...
The 45 minutes sped by, though at times suspended like the acrobalancers in a game of musical statues. It was a colourful production and the music rocked. "Fly Me to the Moon" kicked off the party (as it did as the first dance at our wedding), there were party anthems aplenty and a fair few nods to the adults in the audience, when conjuring up Paul Newman on a bicycle in Butch Cassidy, for example, or a great (clean-cut, pre-watershed) Dirty Dancing sequence.
The circus skills held us spellbound. I loved Tamzen Moulding's dextrously cheeky splits as she slides down to pick off the cherry from the cake (don't challenge her to bobbing for apples come Halloween, you'll lose), the stunningly choreographed interactive juggling between Kaveh and Ed Stephen (and furthermore, anyone who can convincingly breakdance in a chicken suit gets my vote) and francophone Alice Allart's astonishing bike tricks, which left us á bout de souffle, quite frankly. Circus does that to you, you know - leaves you breathless, that is. The anticipation of jaw-dropping feats, like the three-high human tower, is exquisitely unbearable, and it delights me to see my children similarly enthralled. So there was laughs all the way through, and whoops from the audience. What impressed me, though, was not just the physicality of the comedy, but the way the company managed to convey the narrative to children, even those as very young as my toddler, who sat up enchanted, clapping and drum-rolling on her knees (at the right moments), letting out "uh-oh" at the escalating calamities, and giggling throughout.
However, despite the laughs and light-heartedness, it was by no means a sugar-coated, saccharine affair. The boy who never wins at party games, the girl who's never had a birthday, engaged the children's sympathy, and struck a chord. So much so, that when the performers announced they were going to play a game of pass the parcel among the audience, my heart sank. It took me back to a childhood of always making sure the birthday girl won at parties, except at my own, when I would forever pass on my turn for our guests. FHB (Family Hold Back) was hard-wired into our DNA at home. Hence, perhaps, my son immediately nudged me, saying "we won't even get to hold the parcel, will we?" No, I assured him, managing expectations. And I reminded my daughter "remember, it's not the winning, it's the taking part that counts." The lamest phrase ever in the parental handbook still comes in handy at times like these. But the cast were on top of it, and among the children, ensuring every child came into contact with a parcel and so touched their dream. There were treats in the wrapping when the music stopped, which was sweet (thought the toddler who lucked out with a lollipop), but the bottom line was that at the centre, for the Birthday Boy, there wasn't a present at all. By this point the kids felt for him so keenly they were all for leaping on stage and giving him a hug to make him feel better. Touching.
Afterwards the children were delighted to come across "The Actors" (as they breathed, in hallowed terms). These guys had created the magic, after all, they are like wizards to little muggles. "Is that really you?" My son wondered at Kaveh, minus the signature red bow-tie. My elder daughter (aged 6) was straight in there explaining the principles of colour-coding in Barbie's dream-house to the ever-patient Ed the Equable (for the record, she is equally at home talking Star Wars and Minecraft). As for my younger daughter (2½) she was, as ever, creating merry havoc all over the place, and I ended up on my hands and knees with a packet of baby wipes scrubbing melting Calippo ice-cream pellets out of the carpet of Jacksons Lane foyer until my tea had gone cold. Madcap party? I should hire her out. Jacksons Lane, please note, she's a class act.
|Alice Allart, Tamzen Moulding, Ed Stephen, Kaveh Rahnama and Cake|