Last weekend one of us went to see a theatre performance aimed at children aged from six to eighteen months. In the weeks leading up to the show, several people had expressed surprise that such a thing existed – “what can babies get out of the theatre?!” It turns out that babies can get a lot out of the theatre, particularly when the production is founded on research about how they develop. Kaleidoscope, devised by Fliskit Theatre Company, is just that. The production features one performer who occupies a stage decorated with cool-white light bulbs. Her interactions with objects on the stage leads the bulbs to change colour over the course of the show, introducing lights in blue, red, yellow, green, pink and orange. It’s hard to explain, but you can watch a trailer of the show here. The production is based on research from The Sussex Baby Lab at the University of Sussex about how children perceive colour. It’s very cleverly and thoughtfully done – for instance the order that the colours are shown in the show echoes the order in which babies develop colour categories. As an article about The Sussex Baby Lab research explains, “by two months, babies can tell red and green colours apart; a few weeks later, they can also tell apart blues and yellows.” It’s this sequence (red, green, blue and then yellow) that we see in the production.
About 15 babies and their adults attended the 25-minute performance, which maintained the babies’ attention for the full show. The incredibly slow pace supported babies to follow it, as did the repetitive dialogue. The performer playfully communicated in baby-like babble and mimicked the young audience’s excited interjections; the only intelligible words were the names of colours as light bulbs changed throughout the show. The actor interacted with the babies too; taking time to show them stage props individually and pass around shiny material and colour-changing light-up globes at the end of the show. The babies then had the opportunity to explore the stage and props in some stay and play time. All in all, a big hit for the audience, some of whom has only just mastered sitting up.
The people who wondered “what can babies get out of the theatre?!” may have (a) underestimated babies’ capabilities to engage and focus on a structured performance, (b) underestimated a theatre company’s ability to produce an engaging show worth focusing on or (c) both. Kaleidoscope illustrates that when pitched at an appropriate level, babies can engage with, and enjoy, the arts. If you are able to see the production, we’d recommend it. If you’ve already seen it, we’d love to know your thoughts.