Bach to Baby: The soulful cello (3.5*)

bachRuth’s 3.5* review:

Bach to Baby is a concert series from the south of England, performing live classical music for kids.  On this occasion the programme included Chopin, Debussy, Dvorak and Bach performed on piano and cello.

This is the most expensive event I’ve taken BabyStevenson to so far, and one that I specially took the day off work to go to as it was only available on this day.

The event was held in a lovely church which was beautiful.  However.  I think they were not expecting such a good turn out as a lot of time was spent directing people in and parking prams.  I was sent to the front with my pram.  The seating choices were either a pew or on the floor at the front.  Neither seemed ideal for wrangling an almost-toddler but I went with sitting on the floor as I felt he’d enjoy it more if he could watch the cello.  So I was sitting up front with the child and pretty much holding him down by the trousers to prevent him from crawling off / chewing cables / stealing food and toys from other children / climbing on the stage.  And the organisers were still ushering people in… 15 mins after the advertised start time…  So having been there ten minutes early I was already dealing with a very bored child.  15 minutes late is a long time for babies, pretty much their attention span really.  Which means I’d exhausted my distraction plans by the time it even started.  Then just as it started I realised that as my pram was at the front I was trapped for the full hour.

Actually it was fine, the concert was very pleasant and I do think BabyCyclops enjoyed and was interested in the cello because he stood up against the railing and watched it for at least half of the time.

Brush (4.5*)

Ruth’s 4.5* review:

Brush is a performance art theatre piece for children, from a Korean theatre company.  It combines a story about a young boy and his friendly pig going on an adventure with live music and an amazing set that is created during the performance through the actors painting on great big boards and interacting with them.  There was lots of costumes and weird noises and silliness, but amongst this the piece had an underlying artistic integrity to it as well.

Honestly I just don’t even know how to describe it to do it justice.  It was bizarre, but wonderful.  Here’s a link with a photo in it to give you a flavour.

It was visual, musical and a little bit slapstick.  BabyStevenson was mesmerised and watched for nearly an hour with very little fidgeting.

We grown ups enjoyed it too.  It was fanciful and very odd, and we thought it was just the sort of thing that we would have enjoyed drunk too…

The event was advertised as being aimed at age 2+ but BabyStevenson enjoyed it at 15 months.  I think it would be good for any family that was prepared to sit in fixed tiered seating for an hour.

National Museum of Scotland Free Fringe Music (3*)

2015-08-14Ruth’s 3* review:

The National Museum of Scotland has a different performance of free live music every day during the Fringe.

This was a pleasant occasion with chairs set out in one of the museum through-spaces and on this day we saw a performance from a soprano with piano accompaniment (Emma Versteeg and Maryam Sherhan).  The selection of music was quite serene.

It started off busy and with all the chairs occupied we positioned ourselves at the back edge of the crowd, but this meant that BabyStevenson wasn’t too near the singer and so I’m not sure he noticed that the music was live and he was pretty restless.  He joined in the clapping though!  I walked him a bit closer which occupied him a little and he did take some interest in the performers, but I wouldn’t say he would have been welcome to crawl about at the front so we just did a circuit behind the chairs a few times.  I felt that we were in the way even doing this.  One nice man smiled and waved to him.

So on the whole BabyStevenson wasn’t particularly interested.  No reflection on the performers, but I don’t think this type and setup of performance is for him just now.  He needs something more lively and/or visual, or with space to rampage about.  Good to know.  People wandered in and out leaving more space at the back, so I let BabyStevenson roam freely with the music in the background and that was quite nice.

The National Museum of Scotland is great for kids and we had a bit of a look at some of the displays and a roam about in the main hall.  All required facilities are right there and there are (tiny) lifts to get to the floor you need.

Albert & Friends Instant Circus (3.5*)

CircusRuth’s 3.5* review:

Albert & Friends Instant Circus is a London-based charity teaching young people circus skills.  During the festival period they perform outside at the Botanic gardens.

This was a fun, self deprecating and colourful performance from a group of young people including trapeze, unicycle, juggling, and all sorts of clowning and tumbling.  It wasn’t the most polished thing I’ve ever seen, but that wasn’t really the point of it.

The audience sit on the lawn to watch, mostly bringing their own picnic blankets (and picnics!)

On the plus side the performance is free (they pass a hat round after for donations), the seating arrangements are low-key which is great for kids, the performance is held right next to a casual café with toilets/changing/play facilities, and the Botanics is generally great for an afternoon out.

However the circus itself didn’t particularly hold the attention of BabyStevenson.  Some segments appealed more than others – generally those that involved several kids and had more dramatic music.  I guess he’s not old enough to appreciate the physical and athletic feats being demonstrated.  I also find him a little difficult to wrangle in a ‘picnic’ situation as he’d prefer to be crawling about and eating the grass and leaves.

Saying that we did have a really nice afternoon having watched the circus, crawled and roamed about on the lawn a little after, and then had a walk through the gardens on the way home.

Hairy Maclary’s Cat Tales (4*)

Ruth’s 4* review:

Hairy Maclary’s Cat Tales has a loose narrative about a village cat show, but mostly comprises musical numbers about Hairy Maclary and his friends, often based on the wording of the popular series of books.  All of the usual suspects are there – actors dressed up as the dogs and cats.

We weren’t sure how BabyStevenson would do in a proper sit-down show, but Stevensons love the Hairy Maclary books so we thought we’d give it a go.

It was a long show for a baby – almost an hour – but actually it pretty much kept BabyStevenson’s interest.  He was open mouthed at the singing and the dancing characters often craning to watch them as they moved about the stage, and he joined in with some clapping and pointing.  For the older kids the show also involved a bit of slapstick and panto, and they engaged enthusiastically.

It was a pleasant enough hour for adults too, as the singing was decent and it had some gentle humour.

After the show you could buy books and CDs outside.

This venue is a very large lecture theatre (in fact I had most of my first year lectures there in 1998) with fixed tiered seating.  Three rows of chairs were also set out at the front, and we settled there so we could easily roam BabyCyclops a little in the aisle if he got bored.

We took BabyStevenson in the Baby Bjorn and this was good as the venue was up a couple of flights of stairs.  A lift is available, and toilet facilities are in the basement.

This show would best suit children aged toddler upwards, particularly those that are able to sit and watch something and those that like music and Hairy Maclary.  At 14 months BabyStevenson was probably on the young side for it.

The show would be unsuitable for children that are uncomfortable in large crowds, and those that are scared by noise/shouting/flashing lights.

I’m going to hazard that it may also be of less interest to those currently unfamiliar with Hairy Maclary and his friends, as a lot of the excitement comes from recognising the characters and rhymes.  As I say the plot is loose…

Ali McGregor’s Jazzamatazz! (4*)

2015-08-07Ruth’s 4* review:

Notable for being BabyStevenson’s first fringe show!

Ali McGregor sings a range of songs, from jazz classics to pop and nursery rhymes sung in a jazz style, accompanied by a live band.

This show is held in a spiegeltent and set up in a vaguely cabaret style with a dancefloor.  Whilst the children dance the grownups can either join them on the dancefloor, sit on chairs around the edge of the dancefloor, or retreat to a booth and have a drink from the bar.

Ali was a decent singer and she was all glitter, flamboyance and jazz hands.  She was nice with the kiddies and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves – adults and children alike.

BabyStevenson doesn’t walk unaided yet, but he enjoyed crawling about, sitting and watching, standing up against the stage, and jiggling in his Mum’s arms.  Oh, and trying to storm the stage and trying to eat the electrical cables.  I was pretty much able to let him roam free (with supervision) and he chose to watch the singing and the drummer. He clapped and waved.

The show is aimed at ages 1 to 10 and I’d say that is about right.  Young primary school age, and those that can dance will enjoy it most.  But BabyStevenson certainly enjoyed himself and we saw several even younger babies there too.

Assembly George Square Gardens was easy enough for us to access with a pushchair, as it is pretty much step-free.  We were asked to leave the pushchair in a buggy park at the door.  The Gardens has an accessible toilet with baby change.

Edinburgh’s festivals 2015: Reviewing shows for babies and toddlers

Well we have been having a bit of a reviewing hiatus, due to having an arts attending hiatus, due to now having a 14 month old son.

This year we’re keen to take BabyStevenson along to age-appropriate shows at Edinburgh’s Festivals, but so far it has proved really hard to identify shows that are suitable for babies or toddlers.  It is easy enough to get long lists of kids shows, but then they don’t always state any age guidance and even when they do it is hard to evaluate which are actually going to keep the attention of a baby.

Well I’ve put out a call to my Facebook hivemind and I’ve trawled the various festival websites and I’ve done a bunch of keyword searches and I’ve had a walk down the Royal Mile to get some flyers… so I now have a few starting points and things to try.

I’m hoping to get my ass in gear and review what we go to, in case that is of any help to other parents of little uns.


Cabaret – 2013 tour (4.5*)

2013-10-21Ruth’s 4.5* review:

This was my second viewing of this production of Cabaret this year, which seems a little excessive except that Will Young was so extraordinary in it that I had to see it again now it has left the West End and is on tour.

I’ll not go over old ground, it is essentially the same as last time and you can read my thoughts on that here.

The main change was to the female lead playing Sally Bowles.  Last time Michelle Ryan was lacklustre.  This time Siobhan Dillon did a lovely job.  It was a different interpretation of Sally Bowles to either Michelle Ryan or Liza Minelli.  Less desperate and defiant.  Siobhan’s Sally Bowles had a manic sweetness about her – very posh totty, very highly strung, very vulnerable.  And as the show went on, she unravelled.  Cabaret – her swan song – was heartbreaking.

Worth emphasising, Will Young was charismatic and exquisite and this alone is worth seeing Cabaret for.  In particular, his Tomorrow Belongs To Me was wonderful – so pure, and then so appalling.  Has to be one of the best endings to a first act in any musical I’ve seen (except maybe defying Gravity in Wicked).

I’d give this production a 4.5* – up half a star from last time, thanks Siobhan – but still not a perfect 5 because in my opinion the plot lacks a bit of pace.  It may be true that the meandering plot serves to set up the punch of the dark and shocking ending, but it lost my interest in places.

Ian’s 4.5* Review:2013-10-21

I agree with Ruth.

Will Young was mesmerising once again.  Siobhan was much better than Michelle Ryan as Sally Bowles.  The production was good but not inspired, and the chorus didn’t quite sell the sexiness of the Kit Kat Club…

Our House – 2013 Tour (2.5*)

2013-10-17Ian’s 2.5* Review:

We went to see Our House at the Festival Theatre. I LOVED Our House when we first saw it in the West End in London, and the same production again in Edinburgh a few years later. I love the energy, the music, the darkness and the staging.

This new touring production isn’t a patch on the West End production. It’s lost all of the energy, the music has lost its punch, the darkness has been replaced with razamataz, and the staging has become cliched.

The cast didn’t help. It’s small, and most people have to cover many parts as well as playing with the band. Perhaps it’s just too much for them, but the performances all lack real charisma. All of the darkness, irony, sarcasm, attitude, energy and authenticity of the original production has been replaced by blandness and razamataz. One member of the chorus (who also played a secretary and various other parts) looked like she was performing in a musical. The vocals were shaky in places, and downright tuneless at worst. Unambitious choreography lacked crispness of execution.

All in all very disappointing. I still enjoyed the music and spectacle, but it has become a sad shadow of what it was. I’ll be watching the DVD of the original production soon to cleanse my mind…

Ruth’s 2.5* Review:

When I first saw Our House in the West End about ten years back I thought it was a different class of musical.  Often I think the storylines of musicals are a little shallow or silly, but this was something different.  I thought this was a challenging, complicated and gritty play that happened to have songs in it – along the lines of Blood Brothers.  And I thought that (90% of the time at least) the songs added to the play and advanced the plot rather than being shoehorned in.  I bloody hate jukebox musicals, and despite Our House being based on the music of Madness I didn’t consider this to be one.

Well whatever they’ve done to this touring revival of Our House they’ve removed all of the integrity of the original.  It has been dumbed down, as if someone said ‘lets make this *fun*!’ and didn’t actually read the story.  It is now all cheesy High School Musical, except that High School Musical has a bit more charm, intelligence and charisma about it.  And better dancing.  And Zac Efron.

I’m sure if you’d not seen this before you could enjoy it for what it is, and I certainly enjoyed the songs and had a nice time being there.  But… it’s a shame.

On the plus side the set looks great and they do some cool things with some stylised house shaped lights.

Russell Brand: Messiah Complex (4*)

Ruth’s 4* review:

Russell Brand is well known for being over the top.  An ex drug addict and sex addict.  I’ve read his autobiography My Booky Wook.  Silly, grandiose, unreliable, a bit much.

These days Russell is reformed, and his public image appears to be all about the critical analysis of social issues.  He conducts himself with a bit of class and his writing is beautiful and lyrical and eloquent.  His articles and some of his media clips get shared on Facebook a lot, and usually to a positive reception.

I’ve wondered if he might be a genius.  But I wouldn’t say I’m a fan as such in that I haven’t particularly followed his comedy, but I do find him so so interesting as a man.

From what I’ve seen of Russell on TV – particularly his early work – he is a real disruptive game changer in the field of comedy.

And that’s why I wanted to go and see him perform live.  As a comedy fan I thought it would be a shame if I never saw that.  So we bought tickets on the day to see him at the Usher Hall.  God our seats were crap.  Anyhoo.

Russell was, as expected, creative and articulate and charismatic.  His set was extremely coherent and well crafted, and wonderfully delivered.  He’s a fast talker and used big words and big concepts, and is not shy to quote the great philosophers.  No dumbing down here.  I like that.  He was also self-deprecating (albeit in an attention seeking manner) which I found to be quite charming.

Russell’s show had a point, and the point was delivered through a variety of methods from the satirical to the sly to the silly to the downright crude.  Things started off pretty intelligent and built up to an extremely vulgar finale, but none of it was superfluous it all contributed to the narrative.

And it was funny.

Liked it.

Ian’s 4* Review

2013-10-12 Russell Brand_0005Russell Brand was pretty good. He’s charismatic and clever, and the show was really well written – it felt coherent. A solid 4*.

I will NOT be sitting in the upper circle in the Usher Hall again in a hurry. The seats are tiny, close packed and uncomfortable. I scarcely fit in the darned thing.

On another note, this show was NOT age appropriate for a 13-year old.  Russell did try pointing this out to the lad and his parents…

2013-10-12 Russell Brand_0004