Alf the Highwayman at Chew Valley School

On Saturday, we had been invited by theatre company Brave Bold Drama to see their latest show ‘Alf the Highwayman’ which was part of the Valley Arts Autumn Festival programme. Brave Bold Drama are a small, Bristol based company who believe that theatre should be accessible to everyone. As well as their theatre shows for children, they do outreach in schools, run loads of workshops, stage pop up theatre, make theatre for adults… it seems there is not much that Brave Bold Drama can’t turn their hand to! The show took place in the Performing Arts hall at Chew Valley School. It is not a huge venue, but felt welcoming and intimate.

Alf (played by Paul Lawless) has an eye for other people’s possessions and can’t help himself from taking things he wants that do not belong to him. Throughout the show, we see that these things he takes don’t really make him happy. Is it time for Alf to learn a new way to play to stop hurting the feelings of potential friends along the way? The other characters in the show are played by artistic director Gill Simmons. Both actors are clearly skilled vocalists and instrumentalists, and the show is buoyed along by catchy little songs and melodies. As well as the music, great use is made of lots of props to bring the story to life, and this show really was a good way to spend an hour at the weekend with my family. It’s a lovely show and a great introduction to theatre if perhaps this is your little ones first theatre experience. There was plenty of audience participation but nothing that was too intimidating and it was clear that everyone in the audience loved it.

My 4 year old daughter particularly enjoyed this show, and I could hear her obvious giggles of delight mixed in with much laughter from the other younger members of the audience. In such an intimate venue it was easy for the actors to engage with the children and gage their reactions. I chatted with Gill afterwards, and she said she pays careful attention to the bits which the children seem to engage with more or laugh at so that she can improvise and play with these moments for maximum effect. It’s obvious both Gill and Paul are skilled at being able to connect with their audience. My favourite thing about the performance as a whole was that the children were invited onto the stage after the show to play with all the props, dress up as characters from the show, re-enact scenes from the show or make up their own. Gill even showed all the kids how to make an origami boat so they had something to take home to remember the show. I loved this, and Gill told me this is an important part of the performance; she wants the children to feel like they own the space as it breaks down the barriers and makes them feel like they are a part of it all. I’d agree that this really worked. Being able to play gave the show even more meaning for my girls and they have talked about the story often this week. I’m not sure they would have remembered it so clearly if they hadn’t been asked to participate in this way.

This show is gentle, fun and really entertaining. We will look out for more theatre from this company who are undoubtedly going to go on to even bigger and better things. We will also be keeping our eyes out for Valley Arts, and watching how they progress. Valley Arts are based in the Chew Valley area, and have a vision to create a purpose-built, versatile performing arts centre, bringing local and professional performers together. The new centre will have a multi-purpose 250-seater auditorium, rehearsal rooms, dance studio, café / bar and flexible exhibition space. They are currently in the planning and consultation phase of this the project and are working hard to raise the necessary funds to bring their vision to life. It sounds exciting; the performance from Brave Bold Drama was my first experience of getting involved with Valley Arts. If this is the calibre of show they are going to draw in, then the future for Valley Arts looks very bright indeed.

Review by Karen Blake

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