Getting young people interested in the theatre is important not only for the future of the industry, but for them in themselves as well. It can do such wonderful things for their developing minds, showing them a world of creativity that is filled with beauty and passion and can educate its audience whilst simultaneously entertaining them. Kids should be going to the theatre. It can connect an individual to their emotions and imaginations, transport them back and forth in time or even to fantastical worlds, open up their eyes to all kinds of wonders and light a fire under them which may well lead them on to great things in their lives. I’ve been taking my daughter to the theatre for many years now. She is a child so full of empathy and expression and curiosity about the world, and I believe her theatre trips have helped to bring those fine qualities of hers to the surface. She also has a love of performing, and although her thoughts about what she would like to be ‘when she grows up’ change fairly frequently, she continually returns to the idea of a career on the stage and may well pursue it one day. Encouraging a child to build a love of the theatre, whether through visits or by birthing a dream to part of it one day, is something that should itself be encouraged, and one show which is reaching out to them in that respect is the West End’s longest running musical, Les Miserables.
Now in its 29th years, the award-winning musical remains one of the most popular shows in town and needs no help in attracting audiences of any age. Indeed, it was the one my daughter chose to see when given the choice of going to any show in town for her 7th birthday a few years ago. She continues to adore Les Miserables, which is why we repaid a visit to 17th century France on Saturday as part of her 10th birthday celebrations, although this particular visit carried an added bonus with it.
Some may have heard of The Miz Kidz Club, some may not. It offers children between the age of eight and sixteen a ‘unique opportunity to enter the world of theatre’ by inviting them into the depths of the Queen’s Theatre each Saturday before the matinee performance to immerse themselves in the Les Mis ‘experience’. This includes such treats as a backstage tour, drama workshops and learning all about the story of Les Miserables from those who live it every day.
My daughter went along with her second cousin for a joint birthday treat, joining three other children for that day’s delights. They were first handed a CD synopsis (narrated by Sir Ian McKellan) to keep before being taken into the theatre and given a backstage tour, where they were told about the production of Les Miserables and the history of the Queen’s Theatre. The tour included showing them the technical aspects of the show, such as the control desk and the famous revolving stage. They were also given the chance to see the costumes from the show and enjoyed a few drama games, before participating in the improvisation of a key scene from Les Miserables. They were each given roles for ‘Master Of The House’, and after rehearsing, parents were invited back to watch them perform the scene – which was completely hilarious by the way. The children and parents are then taken for a Q&A with a Les Mis cast member, which on this occasion was the lovely Jessamy Stoddart, ensemble member and 2nd Cover Fantine. She answered all questions, explaining what roles she played in the show, what the rehearsal period was like and telling them about Guildford School of Acting, which is where she trained. All five children were then presented with a certificate and released for an hour before returning for the matinee performance, as The Miz Kidz Club also includes tickets for that afternoon’s show.
Myself, my mother and aunt accompanied our two youngsters to the matinee. It was the third time seeing the show for my daughter, while for my aunt’s girl, it was her first time. It doesn’t matter whether you experience Les Miserable with fresh eyes or not though as it is such a powerful story, both comical and emotionally moving in parts, which is why it has amassed such success and survived for so long. It remains in capable hands with the current London cast, strongly led by the tremendously talented Peter Lockyer and David Thaxton as Valjean and Javert respectively. They have a great set of stage actors/actresses around them too, with Tom Edden and Wendy Ferguson especially deserving of mention for their side-splitting comedy double-act as the Thernadiers. Carrie Hope Fletcher was the only principal cast member absent, with 1st Cover Caroline Gregory instead on for the role of Eponine.
What The Miz Kidz Club does is to reveal the wonders of the theatre, from both behind the scenes and in front of it. They get to see how the show works and having fun in becoming involved in part themselves, before sitting in the audience and watching it performed professionally on the stage; an experience such as that would ignite a love of Les Miserables, and theatre in general, in any young person. For any aspiring performers, it also offers an insight into life in the theatre and provides them with a rare chance to talk to someone who’s actually made it to the West End.
I would love to see more shows in the West End offer young people something like The Miz Kidz Club, because if we want the youth of today to become the theatre-goers of tomorrow, then what a wonderful way to set them on that path.
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Tuesday 28th October 2014