Cool genie heats up French Aladin
The boredom threshold of the average eight-year-old is notoriously low.
Reared on three-minute pop videos and vote-'em-off game shows, they demand maximum entertainment for minimum effort. So expecting an eight-year-old to sit through one-and-a-half hours of theatre, delivered entirely in an unfamiliar language, was always going to be ambitious.
Nonetheless, Theatre Sans Frontieres, a Northumberland-based company, is currently touring with a production of Aladin et la Lampe Enchantee, a French-language version of the Arabian Nights story, aimed at primary pupils. The company chooses the obvious solution, opting to deliver much of the production through farce. Large gestures and frantic arm-waving keep the children amused. Meanwhile, dashes of more sophisticated humour - "je viens du pays de Babaganouche" - raise ripples from the adults.
Throughout, the performance is only one step up from pantomime. It is also resolutely low-budget, with shadow-puppet and projection effects harking back to children's theatre of a generation ago. Often, these effects are less than successful: a projected image of the genie of the ring bears a disturbing resemblance to Rosemary Conley in tights and satin.
But occasionally they work well. The highlight is the genie, a suave apparition in dinner-jacket, arriving in a puff of dry-ice smoke. All attitude and style, he struts across the stage to the accompaniment of low jazz, "cool comme la glace, cool comme la neige".
But what raises the play above the charmingly amateur is its careful and measured use of language. There is constant reference to the vocabulary of early French lessons. As the five cast members wander through the audience at the start of the play, they approach the children with queries of "comment t'appele-tu?" and "ca va?"
Isobel Walters, eight, said: "I speak a little French. I can say "bonjour" and "au revoir". And I've seen the Tour de France. But the play would be easier to understand if it was in English. I had to ask my dad what it meant."
Aladin et la Lampe Enchantee is touring until the end of May.