We’re really spoiled with quality children’s theatre in Brighton, particularly at festival time in May, but I have to say I have never experienced anything like Flathampton before. It really was the most original production for children I’ve ever seen. We arrived at the theatre this afternoon and were asked to exchange our tickets for a colour-coded bus pass, then proceed to find our corresponding orange bus stop. A few minutes later our group was ‘picked up’ by a ‘bus’ driver and off into Flathampton (Britain’s Flattest Town) we went. We followed the driver on a tour around town where we met the characters who populate the various ‘buildings’ – the newspaper office, the bank, the shop, the post office, the cafe, the record store, the hospital and the fashion boutique – all of them distinctly flat and one-dimensional.
We were dropped off at the bank and all sat on the floor while an intriguing vehicle, containing former resident Kate, recently returned from London, arrived packed full of 3D goodies for everyone to transform the town. The children then help to make the buildings out of the flat wooden pieces and add accessories (coins, phones, money bags and safes in our case), then there were different activities at each building. We printed bank notes and stamped cheques before moving on to decorate real cakes and make flat lemonade at the cafe. Meanwhile, at the hospital, various parents were being cured with chocolate pills, everyone adorned themselves with outfits and accessories from the massive dressing up box that was now the boutique and you could have a go on the decks or play the musical instruments at the record store.
Alfie’s favourite bit was the shop, particularly when the owner, Jeff, put him in charge (a job he took very seriously) while he went away to organise Kate’s surprise party. At one stage we had ten children with full shopping baskets queuing up to checkout and pay for their groceries, then pack them into paper bags. At the Flathampton Daily, you could film a news or weather report or write a headline, and roving reporters were given mini camcorders to explore with. I loved the attention to detail – the post office had Flathampton tax discs, passports and postcards – and the enthusiasm of the cast (and, no, they genuinely weren’t annoying with it), plus seeing mums and dads getting into the spirit in superhero capes and silly hats, or bandaged up. The culmination was the aforementioned party, complete with cakes, disco and newsreel compiled from the roving reporters’ footage and happy conclusions to all the stories we’d heard. Then we all boarded the last bus home and left the newly 3D town. An absolutely amazing interactive afternoon. It’s still on at Brighton Dome until Sunday, but is fully booked, although tickets might be available from the box office on the day – well worth checking out. I’m gutted I didn’t book the adult version, where the lemonade is replaced with cocktails… It’s coming to Northampton in July, but be sure to book early it’s bound to sell out.
Thanks to Natalie Cherubini for the photographs