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5 things you need to make the perfect theatre show for kids

Louise Callow, co-founder of Scamp Theatre, explains the recipe for making excellent theatre for children

The Scarecrows' Wedding
© Helen Maybanks

As Easter hits, families all over the UK are looking for ways of entertaining the entire clan. A lot of people will be heading to their local theatres to check out family shows. And it's no mean feat: entertaining not only little'uns but their parents and older siblings too is a skill that not many people give much thought to.

Veteran of children's entertainment Scamp Theatre - who has adapted books by the likes of Julia Donaldson, and Michael Morpurgo - is about to hit the road with its latest, The Scarecrow's Wedding. As Louise Callow, co-founder of Scamp Theatre says: "You are under more pressure with kids theatre than you are with theatre for adults. If you get it wrong, then they may not want to go again". With that in mind, here she explains five things that help to make sure the gaggle of kids are kept transfixed.

1. A great story to tell

A lot of our shows are based on adaptations of books, but that doesn't mean that all good books will make good theatre. We have adapted a lot of Julia Donaldson's work - our first was Stick Man, which we staged before it had even been published. For a book to translate well onto the stage, the characters have to be believable and the actual journey of the story needs to be about achieving something at the end. The Scarecrows' Wedding is the first time Julia has written about love and it's an epic love story.

2. Involve children early on

Very early on we have a research and development stage with the designer, performers, composer, lighting designer and the book. Everyone is in the room for at least a week and we start to play with the characters. It's to see whether we actually have a show to make. There are books where we've gone: actually no, we're forcing it. We love to involve children in that early phase. They will tell you very quickly if they are bored.

3. Don't patronise your audience

This is an absolutely huge one for us. These days, three year-olds are on their iPads so much but when they come to the theatre we want them to use their imaginations. Ages three and up you don't need to spoon feed them. For example in The Scarecrows' Wedding there is a bee and the bee is just a kazoo. You don't need a giant black and yellow stripy thing for them to know it's a bee. The actors don't have to stand with their arms out for the entire show for kids to understand they are scarecrows.

4. Entertain the adults

In the end, it's the adults who are buying tickets. But you don't need to entertain them with separate jokes. In The Scarecrows' Wedding there's a beautiful love song called "Silver Moon Shine" and if we get that right it makes the adults cry. The kids are fine - they are looking forward to the wedding, but the adults understand the love story.

5. Get the kids involved

At ages 3 and up audience interaction is crucial. They always get so excited when they arrive at the theatre, and they need to let off steam early on. They need to understand that it's not TV and that there are real people onstage, who are doing it live. In The Scarecrows' Wedding they sing along and they moo with the cows. The trick is to stop them getting carried away. You need a mechanism to move onto the next phase and that's not always easy to find. We like to use a lot of props that are found things to encourage children to be creative at home. It means kids are still interacting with the show well after they've left the theatre.

The Scarecrows' Wedding opens at The Riverfront in Newport on 11 April and then tours throughout the UK.

Click here for our guide on what kids theatre to watch over Easter