This is the perfect piece of theatre for February half term: warm and engaging enough to forget the icy temperatures; educational enough to feel worthwhile; and entertaining enough to be an absolute treat for parents and children alike.
The Polka theatre is a delightful venue which is utterly child-orientated, and Yellow Theatre’s Why the Lion Danced is no exception to the theme. It’s Chinese New Year and the play is set in the kitchen of a Chinese takeaway where young Tom (Oliver Biles) is learning about the stories and legends of his heritage. He is a little worried that having such a large audience in the kitchen may be a breach of Health and Safety regulations, but like so many sensible people, he goes along with it anyway.
In just 55 minutes the play tells two stories: the ancient tale of why the lion danced, and the story of Tom’s quest to grow up in the eyes of his father (Jamie Zubairi). They are equally engaging, and all the more so because of the cast’s wonderful way with the audience: there is just the right amount of audience participation, and the pace is very well judged to ensure that people of all ages are taken along on the journey. In the legend, the lion’s job is to scare away the terrifying monster that threatens the village, but of course this simply couldn’t be done without the deafening help of a very enthusiastic audience who are encouraged to shout, clap and drum their feet.
There is so much to enjoy in this energetic piece. Auntie (Joanna Zenghui Qiu) accompanies the action on traditional Chinese instruments and the movement has been directed by Kumiko Mendl to draw on many of the traditions of Peking Opera and Chinese martial arts. Nana (Tina Chiang) in particular is an absolute riot, telling us all about the traditions of the New Year as well as demonstrating her formidable skills as a black belt Kung Fu fighter. With the simple additions of a feather duster, some orange gloves and a mop, the three adults become a fox, a tiger and the lion, and the monster itself is formed out of the objects found in the kitchen.
This is active storytelling at its best, with just enough done to tell the tale without taking away from the audience’s imagination. It’s hilarious, interesting, challenging, and above all, an awful lot of fun. The 8 year old I took awarded it 10 stars out of 5, which says far more about his appreciation of theatre than it does about his maths.