Producing theatre that will appeal to a younger audience is a vital part of the theatre industry. There are millions of theatre fans all over the world, and this love of theatre that they all share came from somewhere; my love affair with it was sparked by a school trip to see Jesus Christ Superstar and it has only grown with time. Drawing in people in their youth breeds a new generation of theatre-goers who will continue to keep the industry in good health for many years to come. More than that though, qualities that can become lost or forgotten with age, such as imagination and creativity, can be preserved through the medium of theatre, which serves to feeds the imagination and encourage creativity.
There is a continuous offering of productions designed for the younger theatre-goer in both the West End and other regions, but there is one London theatre that has successfully dedicated itself to this target audience for many years now, and will continue to do so following the announcement of its forthcoming shows for 2013: The Unicorn Theatre.
Based on Tooley Street in Southwark, The Unicorn is the UK’s only purpose-built theatre for young audiences in the age range of 2-21. Current artistic director Purni Morell, who took over from former AD Tony Graham in 2011, recently revealed the theatre’s upcoming spring/summer season, which begins on 24th March 2013 with the world premiere of Christopher William Hill’s Mister Holgado. Directed by Matthew Lenton, this ‘playfully macabre story of a little boy, a tiger that lives in his wardrobe and a strange man who pays the family a visit’ runs for five weeks, closing on 28th April 2013. A rich variety of theatre follows The Unicorn’s opening show, such as the visiting productions from several international artists: Italy’s Compagnia Rosidio brings his Company to the venue from 9th-28th April, with Belgium’s Ontroerend Goed close behind with a strictly limited performance of Teenage Kicks on 10-11th May. Then the audience can enjoy the return of acclaimed work Something Very Far Away, which proved very popular when it played at The Unicorn in June 2012. It’s a tender tale that follows ‘Kepler’ as he travels through outer space in a home-built rocket after the death of his wife in a tragic circus accident, told through the use of projection, animation and puppetry. Mark Arend’s production returns on 21st May and runs until 2nd June. Further shows include the Oily Cart production Tube (12th-22nd June) which caters for children with profound and multiple learning disabilities, a special Father’s Day performance of Nick Makoha’s My Father and Other Superheroes and Box Clever’s Romeo and Juliet (29th April-9th May), as well as a number of shows aimed at the under-fives, such as Shoofly Theatre’s You’re Not My Friend Anymore, Teater Pero’s Aston’s Stones and stillmotion’s We Dance Wee Groove. Award-winning theatre company Complicite completes the season with Lionboy, a show inspired by Zizou Corder’s trilogy about a boy who can talk to cats. A co-production between Bristol Old Vic, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, Oxford Playhouse and Warwick Arts Centre, Lionboy marks Complicite’s first ever show created for families and young people and is directed by the company’s founder Annabel Arden. It plays from 9th July to the end of the spring/summer season on 21st July.
The theatre’s life began in 1947, when founder Caryl Jenner toured ‘Mobile Theatre productions aimed mainly at children. A name change to the Unicorn Theatre Club in 1962 was followed five years later by a permanent residence at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End and an annual grant of £10,000 from the Arts Council. The present Unicorn Theatre was custom built in 2005 and has been its home ever since. The Unicorn has been recognised for its work over the years and earned a number of awards, including an Arts Council Award for ‘Best New Play for Children’ in 2004 for Red Red Shoes. It also boasts HRH The Duchess of Cornwall as its patron and has several other honorary patrons of significance, like Quentin Blake, Dame Judi Dench, Jude Law, Dame Jacqueline Wilson and Lord Attenborough, to name a few.
Theatre for a young audience is so important, for both them and the industry. The Unicorn is doing fantastic work in this area and its upcoming season looks promising in regards to continuing that work.
By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)
Tuesday 8th January 2013