Wednesday 4 April 2018

Friends For All Family Theatre Review at Z-Arts, Manchester

A couple of weeks ago we were guests of Z-arts and Half Moon to watch the interactive spoken word play Friends For All. Suitable for children aged around 5-11, it was a really excellent performance with a clear aim to empower youngsters and help them realise they are already special, and they already have the ability to create change. I think we all took something away from it.

I visited with my partner and 8 and 9 year old boys. We love Z-Arts because it's so warm and welcoming, and you feel like you are back with friends. The cafe is excellent and on this visit had children's milkshake cartons for something fabulous like 25p! You can't ask for more than that.

The stage set was sparse, with the only scenery several white rectangular blocks. Once the performance started they became populated with the projected characters from the story. The lighting and projection were virtually spot on, timed to perfection. It was really well executed, with the supporting cast remaining almost still except for subtle movements - just enough to remind you they were there.

Lone performer Simon Mole was brilliant. He captivated his audience and very naturally encouraged participation. Set to occasional musical backdrop, his storytelling was modern, quirky and easily understood and the boys loved it. He rapped, he rhymed and at times he spoke pure poetry. My 8 and 9 year olds also found his London accent really interesting - they both commented on it.

The tale is one of Lexi, a girl who doesn't feel she fits in. She tries to become popular with the cool kids, but she has gone about it selfishly, without care and upsets her dearest friend. It's an exchange she isn't proud of. She remembers her Grandfather's tales of the 1960's, and how he was part of a movement of people who fought for change peacefully. She realises she can make a real difference and be popular by just being herself.

I think every child can relate to the story. The characters are familiar and each school class has them - the loner, the quiet one, the leader of the cool kids, the followers. There is the usual classroom mix of bullying and meanness, friendship and respect, and every child attempting to find their place and be confident enough to be themselves.

Friends For All is empowering. It teaches wise lessons we know as adults to be true. Everyone is unique and we are all special, we just have to find our own way to bloom. We don't have to pretend to be someone else in order to impress anyone. As Dr Seuss said "...those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind". And we can all make positive changes to our lives without treading on anyone else on the way.

The messages in Friends For All are really important to youngsters. They can feel really out of place at this age and it does no harm to tell them that it's perfectly normal to feel odd, be embarrassed about your Grandad or to want to find others like yourself. It's a great show for any child who lacks confidence - which is probably just about all of them.

The success of the entire show rests mainly on Simon Mole's performance and he didn't disappoint. He was almost word and position-perfect throughout, and even stayed around afterwards to talk to members of the audience. We didn't stay behind, we went to the van and had an amazing hour's drive home discussing everything from caning and corporal punishment through to the French Revolution and the Vietnam War...

Z-Arts is a fantastic Manchester theatre and arts venue for families. They have regular performances and installations, craft, theatre and dance workshops and a host of other events for children and their families. You can find out what's on on the Z-Arts website.

Half Moon Theatre create performances for children of all ages. They are based in London, but travel regularly and you can find out more about what they are up to on the Half Moon Theatre website.

We attended as guests for review.

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