Introducing your child to the theatre is one of the great pleasures of parenthood. Whether it's the visual delights of The Lion King or the linguistic challenge of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Regent's Park, London is a fertile ground for children's entertainment, particularly in the summer months.
The biggest event on the children's summer calendar is Kidsweek, from Aug. 24-31, organized by the Society of London Theatre, when any child between five and 16 gets in free to top West End shows, when accompanied by an adult (paying full price). You can also take an additional two children at half-price.
Shows on offer include Starlight Express, Cats, Buddy and The King and I, but sadly not The Lion King, Mamma Mia and My Fair Lady, all of which are sold out months ahead. But Kidsweek isn't just about trips to the theatre. In an effort to fire young imaginations - and ensure the audiences of tomorrow - SOLT has recruited dozens of West End actors, technicians and creatives to run workshops, costume-fittings, make-up sessions and social events. The Lion King will definitely feature in these events, along with Starlight Express, Chicago, Phantom, The King and I and The Blues Brothers. Cats is such a West End institution that it has its own well-established Cats' Kids Club at the New London Theatre where workshops and get-togethers happen every month.
The Theatre Museum in Covent Garden provides a focus for what you might call educational activities, although the kids who take part in making face masks, and putting on impromptu performances, using the Museum's vast array of wigs and costumes, might prefer to call it dressing up. The Museum will also be the location of the Marks & Spencer-sponsored Kids' Theatre Club, which gets under way in September. Admission will be free and it will take place every Saturday morning between 10 and 12.
On the subject of free admission, the National Theatre's summer fiesta, Watch This Space, offers an incredible range of outdoor entertainment every day until Aug. 25, from aerial displays and circus acts to Hawaiian beach parties and Bollywood-style dancing. Open-air theatre of a more formal kind is to be found in Regent's Park, where this year's family show, Pinocchio in the Park, in association with the Unicorn Theatre, opens this week. The musical Where's Charley, based on the classic farce Charley's Aunt, also just opened in the Park, is suitable for older children.
Outside central London, there are child-friendly entertainments galore, especially if you live in the Islington area, where the Little Angel Theatre has a full program, or in Southgate, further north of the river, where the Chicken Shed Theatre is mindful of its young audiences. Look out for the London Bubble, which is touring Gulliver's Travels round London's suburban parks until the end of August.
Perhaps the capital's best-known children's theatre, the Polka in Wimbledon, is currently celebrating its 21st birthday with a revival of The Giant's Baby until Aug. 18. Allan Ahlberg's delightful story of a baby that just keeps on growing was written for the Polka in 1990. Go fire their imagination!
—by Nick Smurthwaite Theatrenow