How to Be a Kid at the Orange Tree Theatre
Discussing mental health issues can be difficult for adults, how much more so for younger audiences. Yet, in How to Be a Kid, Sarah McDonald-Hughes finds a way of broaching the subject in an engaging, fast-paced and imaginative way that’s aimed at 7 to 11-year olds. The story is told from the perspective of 12-year-old Molly as she returns home from a stay in care, while her mother recovers from a breakdown. Molly must maintain family life after the loss of her grandmother, looking after her six-year-old brother, Joe.
Theatregoers are immediately bombarded with loud pop music, setting the tone for a quick-moving, animated experience, jarred by abrupt and poignant breaks in the action. Dance routines set to Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off are performed repeatedly, acting as a code of friendship between Molly and the best friend she has made in care, aptly also named Taylor. It signifies a young girl balancing between reality and escapism, childhood and being thrust unprepared into the duties of adulthood.
The cast of three create a rich world of characters, with Katie Elin-Salt as Molly, who maintains a bright-eyed confidence; she simply must get on with it, for the sake of her brother. Hasan Dixon embraces the unbridled energy of Joe, his ability to contort his body showing a nuanced and convincing performance as the brother at varying ages, teenage boys and a bus driver. Sally Messham switches in and out of roles as Mum, Taylor, Nan and others. She rounds out the cast and drives scenes through accents and shifts in body language. The performers remain in the same simple primary-coloured outfits throughout, yet a simple shift in posture, or deepening of pitch transforms them entirely into each new character, keeping up the spirited pace. Aided by smart lighting that moves day into night, and depicts flames and swimming pools, the bare stage requires nothing more than this and the actors to create vivid scenes.
In a heart-rending moment, Molly is told to grow up by Taylor. Yet, she only seeks solace in fantasy because she has been forced to grow up and take on the role of matriarch. As the family overcomes this struggle together, some semblance of their childhood returns, yet the lasting effects of her mother’s mental illness linger on.
Photo: Jonathan Keenan
How to Be a Kid is at the Orange Tree Theatre from 25th January until 3rd March. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.