Shakespeare meets Lloyd Webber;Arts;Books

10th April 1998 at 01:00

Shakespeare4Kidz? The company's title might elicit a collective staffroom groan and arouse suspicions of dumbing down, but the company really does present an effective entry into the world of Puck, Bottom and Peter Quince. After sitting through a packed afternoon show, I have to report joy and laughter on the faces of every watching child and the welcome din of a thunderous curtain call.

The target audience is primary school children, and the story is kept crystal clear, though never patronisingly simple. The company's style is rather like a top-quality musical adventure. Director Julian Chenery cheerfully admits that he and his company of 13 deliberately go into the area of Bugsy Malone and Technicolor Dreamcoat, but the original story structure is closely adhered to, the sense of magic remains Shakespearean and many of Shakespeare's lines are included. Purists might cringe if a favourite line is missing. I certainly would have been cross if Oberon's "I know a bank where the wild thyme grows" had been left out.

Initially I did wonder about the language. Only at Puck's entry, with his "Over hill, over dale", does the production begin to offer a satisfying mix of new and ancient dialogue.

The songs help with character detail and emphasise some aspects of the narrative. The confusions between the two pairs of lovers in the Athenian woods are caught in splendid fashion with an exceptionally spirited song and some sublimely choreographed antics.

Puck carries the story along by confiding in the audience, much in the manner of a pantomime Buttons, and the Mechanicals are played with a rich, knockabout humour that carefully avoids silliness.

For children who are wondering who the bearded bard is, or for those who have heard or read Leon Garfield's excellent Shakespeare Stories, this company's work is an ideal next step.

Shakespeare4Kidz markets Put on a Play kits which include a CD with sung and karaoke versions of the songs. Company policy is to encourage primary schools to put on their own productions after seeing a S4K show - 200 schools are already planning their own Dream.

Kevin Berry Shakespeare4Kidz are touring 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' this summer and in the autumn, when it will be performed in repertory with 'Twelfth Night'. For details, tel: 01883 723444; Web site: www.

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