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Preview: My Mother Told Me Not To Stare at Darlington Arts Centre

OPERA is not usually regarded as entertainment suitable for children but that may be because most operas have been written with adults in mind.

Children's opera My Mother Told Me Not To Stare
Children's opera My Mother Told Me Not To Stare

OPERA is not usually regarded as entertainment suitable for children but that may be because most operas have been written with adults in mind.

At Theatre Hullabaloo, children are always at the forefront of people’s minds because this is the region’s only specialist producer of theatre for young audiences.

And in My Mother Told Me Not To Stare, they reckon they have something to keep youngsters – it’s deemed suitable for people aged eight plus – riveted to their seats.

They bill it as a deliciously dark operetta for children and adults where the performers are all skilled singers, actors and musicians playing a variety of instruments including the clarinet, violin and accordion.

Miranda Thain is chief executive of Theatre Hullabaloo which grew out of CTC Theatre (previously known as Cleveland Theatre Company).

“I took over as creative producer of what was CTC Theatre and is now Theatre Hullabaloo and this was the first project I originated, although it was very much grown from the seeds of the previous company’s work,” she said.

“Dr Martyn Harry, the composer, used to work at Durham University (and is now at Oxford) and he had made operas with students in the past.

“The director, Nina Hajiyianni, was also associated with CTC Theatre.”

The work was first performed in 2010 when it was extremely well-received, playing a sell-out week at the Unicorn Theatre in London.

“The feedback was that this was a special and important piece of work that needed to be seen by more young people, so we fundraised and got more partners,” said Miranda.

“Everyone has been very supportive.”

Theatre Hullabaloo is touring the work in association with Action Transport Theatre, of Cheshire, and has been working with young people to redevelop it. Miranda said originally it had been done as a two-act performance with an interval but this time it was to be done straight through as a 75-minute piece.

The break, it was felt, had spoiled the momentum of an exciting story with plenty of dramatic tension.

My Mother Told Me Not To Stare was written by an “absurdly talented” Tasmanian writer called Finegan Kruckemeyer who, at the age of 30, already has 52 commissions to his name.

“His work has been seen in 25 countries around the world,” said Miranda.

My Mother Told Me Not To Stare is set in the town of Upper Crumble where life is unfair on children and only those who conform to its unreasonable values ever get to grow up.

Growing up, though, means never developing empathy, emotional maturity or self-confidence so, in effect, the grown-ups all behave like selfish children. The hero of the tale is Bobby Rogers who learns how to be brave by following the example of a girl called Emily Ives.

Say Theatre Hullabaloo: “Bobby destroys the social machinery and wickedness of the only world he has ever known for the only person he has ever loved.”

That, you must agree, sounds highly operatic.

The company calls it “an extraordinary adventure that shows how the world is sometimes unfair on children but their intelligence ad resolve in the face of adversity can be inspirational”.

The director explains that “opera is emotionally expressive in a bold and unapologetic way which children are adept at appreciating and don’t often get access to”.

And she adds: “Judging by the reaction from the audience when we first toured the production last year, children love opera.”

Theatre Hullabaloo are resident at Darlington Arts Centre but with the imminent closure of that venue, the company will shortly relocate.

My Mother Told Me Not To Star is something of a swansong, therefore.

See it at Darlington Arts Centre on June 1 and 2 or catch it later on its national tour either at ARC, Stockton, on June 11 and 12, or Hartlepool Town Hall Theatre on June 20 and 21.

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