Throwback Theatre: Nostalgia on Stage

"Children’s stories are certainly no stranger to the stage."
“Children’s stories are certainly no stranger to the stage.”

“Like/retweet/reblog/share this if you’re a 90s kid!”

Such is the oft-repeated mantra springing up all over Facebook, Twitter and all sorts of social media these days. Along with the majority of people, the repetition has gone on to the point of being horribly irritating, but somehow they still do get those likes/shares etc. And why? Because that decade was, of course, the home of our childhood.

Nostalgia and fond memories of easier times gone by have always been a popular source of enjoyment for people of all ages and childhood decades, and so of course our generation is no different. Simply put, we just always derive some sort of a warm and fuzzy glow from seeing or experiencing something that we associate with being young and carefree. So much so that people on the internet do feel that urge to spread pictures reminding each other of how wonderful childhood was… and it is in a way similar to this that the world of the stage can capitalise wonderfully on people’s needs to fulfil the yearnings of their inner child.

Children’s stories are certainly no stranger to the stage, with titles such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda taking the West End by storm, as well as Annie and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe entertaining audiences further afield on Broadway. York’s own Theatre Royal has productions such as Peter and the Wolf being performed at a regular basis, and largely for audiences who want to see these productions for themselves, and not necessarily for the enjoyment of any young relatives. The sheer amount of adult tickets sold for this type of performance is in itself a testament to their remaining popularity, even (or perhaps particularly) as people grow older.

The never-declining popularity of Pantomime as a genre is yet another example of nostalgic audiences flocking to a performance… not only are pantomimes’ stories almost entirely consisting of retellings and rehashings of popular children’s stories and fairy tales, but the genre itself is a familiar enough factor to reel people in. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a theatre seat next to an elderly couple who are falling about in stitches at the shenanigans onstage, and although the humour and genre may induce a few more eye-rolls as one gets older, they remain funny, and at the very least recalling memories of how exciting it used to be to shout up at the characters onstage and have them respond. That delight of breaking the fourth wall for the first time as a child is something that does seem purely magical at the time, and make for glowing memories.

These feelings that draw us towards these types of performances do, however, often serve as something of a smokescreen in terms of the actual quality of a performance. If, when sitting at the theatre, you feel all glowy and happy at reliving an aspect of your youth, does that actually make it a good performance? Well… probably not. In fact, some people would probably say that the idea of taking pantomime or children’s tales as a serious theatrical form is ridiculous.

But that’s not what matters. If you manage to get an adult excited just by recognising the name of an upcoming production from a long distant memory, I’d say you’ve succeeded with your choice of performance already. If buying a ticket to such a show is buying a ticket for a 2 hour trip down sunny memory lane, you’d be mental not to go for it.