The smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd...if your child is a budding thespian, August is the time to head into London's West End, no matter where you live.
The Society of London Theatre are once again running their Kids Week promotion (which officially starts on 12th August and goes into September – I know, it should be Kids Month, and have an apostrophe, don't get me started), which includes workshops, activities as well as discounted theatre tickets (one child goes free for every adult paying full price, with two more children entitled to attend at half-price).
Here are our recommendations for things to do and see for each age group.
- Under 5s
Your choices are limited when it comes to under-fives anyway, so it's fortunate that The Tiger Who Came To Tea (Vaudeville Theatre) is such a great production, based on the ever-popular book by Judith Kerr with added songs. If the show goes down well, get yourselves over to the
V&A on a Friday – their free Funky Fridays include a Tiger Tea Party as well as fancy dress and other arts and crafts.
The Lion King has been running in London for over a decade and it's still packed out every night at the Lyceum. Even if you don't count yourself as a fan of musicals, the spectacular costumes and scenery will prove a hit – and Kids Week offers you the chance to go behind the scenes to find out about how the masks and puppets are created.
To be honest, even if Crazy for You wasn't a terrific show, I'd recommend a visit to the Open Air Theatre – the space is simply amazing, nestled in the trees and foliage of Regent's Park, and when you're a child, it's positively magical. But the Open Air Theatre plus the songs of George Gershwin is a winning combination – and if your child finds his feet tapping, there's a dance workshop you can sign up for.
Potter fever is still sweeping the country, and CBBC's Dan and Jeff are making the most of it with their show Potted Potter – all seven of the series performed in 70 minutes! Children can join their Quidditch Training Camp after the show.
Heading out of the centre of town, the New Wimbledon Theatre is hosting a Jungle Book Workshop – an hour's worth of activities based on the beloved Disney movie. Could your child be Mowgli? Send him along.
- 12 and over
Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, has had mixed reviews since its opening last year, and is heading out of the West End at the end of August – but in the meantime, the cast will teach children the circus skills needed to be part of Phantasma, the Gothic
amusement park on New York's Coney Island, run by our masked anti-hero.
Legally Blonde is the best musical in the West End at the moment, for my money – its two-and-a-half-hour running time means it's probably only suitable for older children and teenagers, but they will adore it – it's everything that's fun and fabulous about musical theatre. Lee Mead, aka Mr Denise van Outen, currently plays Emmett, the man who helps our heroine Elle through law school.
If your child is studying drama at school, the chances are he'll come across Willy Russell's Blood Brothers at some point. The musical version has been running in London for over 20 years, and during Kids Week young people have the chance for a question-and-answer session with the cast and crew. This is a fantastic opportunity for children more interested in the techniques of putting a show together, from direction to character development. If Shakespeare is more your
child's thing, the Globe are running some fabulous tours and exhibitions (all for free, and no need to book in advance).
And if your child would rather see other young people performing (instead of watching dull old grown-ups), go east to Greenwich, where the Company Youth Music Theatre are staging Mack and Mabel, a Jerry Herman musical with a 1920s silent movies feel.
If you're not sure whether Kids Week is for you and your family, you can try out some of the activities and see some of the West End shows at the grand launch event on Wednesday 10th August, hosted by Marcus Brigstocke (recently on tour in Spamalot, the Monty Python musical, so he knows his stuff). Get to the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank for 2pm (no need to book) and your children will have the chance to see and then learn song-and-dance routines from West End stars. But be warned, you may never get your child out of the spotlight again.
Kids Week events begin officially on 12th August and run until 4th September