As any grandparent will tell you, children's outdoor play has changed. In the 1950s, gaggles of girls chanted along to singing games. In the 1960s and 1970s, affordable television ushered in the likes of Batman, inspiring make-believe adventures to rival old favourites such as marbles, jacks and skipping. And ever since the 1980s, computer games have been blamed for fatter, less active children.
But as the mother of two boisterous boys, I know that outdoor fun is alive and kicking. Indoor activities such as Connect 4 and Lego are routinely booted aside by my two- and four-year-olds in favour of wrestling in the garden, preferably with our neighbours' children who have helped them to make a nice-sized hole in the fence. When a family trip to my own little theatre descended into tag in the aisles, I gave up on indoor activities.
That is when I had the idea for Childsplay, a show devised to tour parks around the country. I teamed up with Rachel Grunwald, a fellow theatre-maker and mum, to dramatise the history of outdoor play. Our young cast had a great time leading the promenade, doling out headphones that synched every scene to soundscapes from a different era. Amid a hubbub of onlookers and dog-walkers, people of all ages came together to play bygone games.
Childsplay turned out to be most popular with children of nine or 10. They belted out Jenny Jones, a long-dead singing game about sweethearts and mourning. They relished French and English, a 17th-century team game that rewards inventive insults. They even incorporated the clapping games we taught them into their own X Factor-style playground competitions afterwards.
But the game everyone loved best was Extreme Whiplash. Children and adults alike squealed with delight as they ducked and jumped the skipping rope. Fear and fun echoed through all the audio memories we recorded - whether hurling missiles in Balls and Bonnets or charging on shoulders in Knights.
By the end of the tour every member of the crew had sustained some form of injury. Our lead actor bruised a rib playing Cowboys and Indians, the show's only girl twisted her ankle during the football and I got so excited reliving Knight Rider in the 1980s scene that I fell off the ramp in the skate park.
Yet we kept playing. None the worse for wear, our characters collected ever more enthusiastic comments on their Facebook pages. Even in a digital age, the appeal of physical risk lives on.
Helena Thompson is the artistic director for S.P.I.D. (Specially Produced Innovatively Directed), creating immersive theatre for community spaces. For further information go to www.spidtheatre.com.
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