Review: Suddenly…! at the Cockpit Theatre

I always imagine it must be pretty terrifying making theatre for children. Grownups will (usually) at least pretend to look interested, but with kids there’s no such guarantee. Fortunately, Really Big Pants Theatre’s Suddenly…! had its young audience at the Cockpit Theatre spellbound from the start… and the adults had a pretty good time too.

Photo credit: ID Photography

Suddenly…! takes elements from different fairy tales and mixes them together in an original, exciting and heartwarming story about the importance of friendship. Red Riding Hood, Mr Wolf, a faulty genie and a wicked stepmother all make an appearance, as a young boy’s well-intentioned attempt to get his dad’s attention goes horribly wrong, and we set out on a quest to recover three special items and help Grandma save the day.

The show’s written and performed by Really Big Pants’ Joe Bromley and Willow Nash, who play all the characters with the help of assorted interesting headwear and a variety of accents, not to mention boundless enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment. It’s thoroughly entertaining, but there’s also a strong educational element to the show; besides its core message about how friendship and spending quality time together are more important than having lots of stuff, there are also brief lessons in history and science, a bit of feminism (no princesses waiting around for a man to rescue them in this story, thank you very much), and – to my delight – a tribute to the late great Roald Dahl. Afterwards, children can take away worksheets and even enter a story-writing competition for a chance to see their work published in the Ham & High newspaper.

Not surprisingly for a kids’ show, audience participation is encouraged, but in a gentle, positive way that means nobody feels singled out or uncomfortable – and it’s a testament to how enjoyable it all is that everyone’s more than happy to join in (yes, even I was up on my feet doing the genie dance). Judging by the enthusiasm of our relatively small audience at the Cockpit, I can only imagine the noise levels when the show’s performed in a school hall full of excited children.

Photo credit: ID Photography

The show is also very funny, and like any good kids’ story contains jokes for both children and adults, so everyone stays engaged and entertained throughout. But the humour isn’t the only thing that works on two levels – as the story itself points out, it’s not just children who need to be reminded that material possessions aren’t everything, or that we should put down our phones once in a while and spend some time with the people we care about.

Suddenly…! is a great story and a lot of fun for the whole family, performed with an infectious energy and enthusiasm by two ladies who clearly love what they do. It’s educational but never boring, and enjoyably silly without being patronising. And because Really Big Pants encourage their audience – young and old – to go away and write their own stories, the fun doesn’t have to stop when the show ends.

Really Big Pants Theatre perform at theatres, festivals, schools and community venues. For all upcoming dates or to book them for an event, visit reallybigpants.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @reallybptheatre.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉

Interview: Joe Bromley and Willow Nash, Really Big Pants Theatre

“There’s just the two of us, and we came together after years of knowing each other as friends, then working together in a sketch show and various acting jobs. And then we thought, shall we bring all our vast experience together – of writing, performing, working with children (and having them) – and see what happens? And we decided our shows would all have themes that we both cared deeply about: literacy, the environment and a healthy body image.” 

Joe Bromley and Willow Nash are co-founders of the Really Big Pants Theatre Company, creating shows that celebrate and encourage literacy for primary age children. “We encourage children to learn to read through our love of stories. A character in SUDDENLY…! doesn’t want to do his story homework at the beginning because he thinks he’s no good at them, but by the end he’s got a great idea for a story and can’t wait to write it down. We believe storytelling is an excellent gateway into encouraging reluctant children to learn to read.” But the shows aren’t just fun for kids: “We’ve had wonderful feedback from parents and teachers alike, telling us how much they enjoyed the show alongside the children, and appreciated the morals.”

Photo credit: ID Photography
Photo credit: ID Photography

They’re performing their latest show, SUDDENLY…! at schools, arts centres and community venues, and describe it as “a story within a bedtime story, twisting traditional tales and featuring fairy tale characters as you’ve never seen them before. It’s an interactive adventure full of excitement, danger, friendship, forestry and the perils of bad manners and too much stuff!”

SUDDENLY…! has also been adapted as an audiobook, recorded by Joe and Willow, and described by the Kentish Towner as “non-stop adventure featuring delicious wordplay”. The ladies explain, “We were approached by a publisher and jumped at the opportunity to expand the world of the show, where it’s just the two of us playing all the characters with minimal props, and to bring in more descriptive language as well as the original dialogue. Audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular as a great way to enjoy a story as a whole family, and are inclusive for children who are struggling to read. We’re writing two new adventures for Grandma and Red, and hoping there will be print versions soon too.”

suddenly-cover
Illustration by Rosie Alabaster

With World Book Day coming up next week, Joe and Willow are looking forward to taking SUDDENLY…! into three primary schools to celebrate. “We love introducing children to the power of theatre and for some of them in schools, this will be the only chance they get to see a play. So our priority is making sure we provide great entertainment. And then we would like them to think about the messages in the play, such as being kind, trying your best, and friendship being more important than having lots of stuff. But we definitely want them to say afterwards, ‘I’m now going to read/write/make up my own story!’ and many of them do tell us that on their way out! We were beyond proud when, after seeing our show at his school, an eight-year-old boy went home and wrote his own book – complete with illustrations of us! – where our characters met the characters from the book he’d been reading. How brilliant!

“Another great moment was when we performed in a library for the Summer Reading Challenge, and a mother had brought her reluctant son to see the show, telling us he was not a keen reader at all. We kept an eye on him throughout – he started off with defensive body language, sitting slightly apart from the other children, but we watched him grow and grow in enthusiasm and join in and really get involved, and at the end he came up to us and said he wanted to take a book out of the library and try and read it. Hugely rewarding. We also love it when children in schools line up to fist bump us before heading off to their classrooms and ask us when we’ll be back! So many highlights, and always a joy to be on stage and see a sea of happy faces.”

Photo credit: ID Photography
Photo credit: ID Photography

And where do pants fit into all this?! “During rehearsals for PLUNDERED!, our show about the environment, we were working on a scene where our characters have to disguise themselves as pirates, and we decided they would rummage through a trunk of old clothes and find some really big pants. Hysteria kicked in and we rolled about laughing, like the true professionals we are. After months of formal deliberation over what we should call the company, the name finally came from that daft moment. But we use the pants in all our shows in one way or another – look out for them!”

To find out about future performances of SUDDENLY…! or to book Really Big Pants for a show, visit their website: www.reallybigpants.co.uk

The SUDDENLY…! audiobook is available from Waterstones and The Owl Bookshop.