Good coffee, happy crafty kids, bring it on:

Review by: @nellefant, local Mum and admin for http://www.tootingbaby.co.uk
Did we pay? One comp for launch date
Do we know the organisers? No (though @tootingbaby has been to one of their baby raves, and loved it)

Alfie (@captcookiecraft) who manages the craft room at Big Fish, Little Fish events (the parent and baby raves which began in Brixton) has started The Minnow Club, a regular craft and family coffee morning. It is held at the Prince of Wales pub in Brixton (very near Brixton station, opposite the Ritzy Cinema), 10am-midday on Thursdays.

I attended the launch event in December with my baby, along with around twenty other parents/kids. A craft table full of pre-cut Christmas tree decorations was packed with crayons, glitter pens, sequins, and fluffy bobbles, for children to colour and stick (with the hands-on help of parents if required!). There was a separate Playdough table with shapes and cutters, and a play area for younger babies with tunnels, bouncy inflatable balls, and toys. To add to the crafty element, next time they are hoping to have a floor mural, i.e. a space for drawing on the floor! I enjoyed a very good flat white and a pastry for a bargainous £2, they also had muffins and strawed cups for children to have water or juice.

So, how it is different from a playgroup? The “proper” coffee and pub seating for grown-ups makes a difference – Hannah of @bflfevents said she’d love for it to become a space for groups of parents to meet up as they normally would for coffee, but with the advantage of having lots more for the kids to do! The pub certainly made a good venue, it’s very spacious (fine to take the pram) and they had a special “early lunch” menu available, so they had obviously embraced the idea of welcoming the Minnow Club.

The specific focus on craft is original, and it’s nicely unstructured – you can choose when and whether to have a go at the craft activities or just let your kids do their own thing. The atmosphere was friendly and chilled out, I got the impression most parents did not already know each other and most people were open to a friendly chat. I attended with my 13 month old, who enjoyed the play area, but didn’t quite get the most from the crafty bits – but it was all definitely a big hit with the older toddlers in the room, so I look forward to taking her again in a few months’ time!

Next Minnow Club is on Thurs 9 January, and it will take place weekly. It costs £5 per family (i.e. parent(s) and child), £8 for 3 or more kids.

Twitter: @BFLFevents @CaptCookieCraft

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Lunch can be served from 11am as it’s an “early” special.

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Two dads, two 4 year olds, one Gorilla:

Review by: @frybynight

Did we pay? Two comps, two full price

Do we know the organisers? No, although everyone knows Polka!

The Polka Theatre is a gem; a theatre for children with a decent café, a nice playground, a garden, some fish, a lovely playroom with a rocking horse or two (you don’t have to be attending an event to use these, though I personally haven’t used the rocking horse), and that’s before you even get to the two theatres. For those unfamiliar with the Polka Theatre, the standards of the productions they put on are extremely high. “World class theatre for children” indeed, at the quiet end of The Broadway in Wimbledon.

Gorilla is no exception. It is the best production I have seen in Polka in the last two years, and that is no small praise. My almost-4-year-old son adored it, as did his 4 year-old friend, who came along with her dad. This adaptation of Anthony Browne’s book captures the special element that makes his work so memorable (aside, of course, from the amazing illustrations); the power of a child’s imagination when faced with the mundane difficulties that ordinary life throws at us. (Tooting Library has some of his books – worth borrowing.)

Gorilla tells the tale of Hannah, a little girl who lives with her dad, a single father. He is a busy man, and Hannah doesn’t quite get the attention she would like, or that she deserves. Hannah is fascinated by gorillas (the set, which is primarily her bedroom, is delightfully decorated by many different pictures of gorillas) and would like one, a real one, for her birthday. When her dad instead gets her a toy gorilla, she is very disappointed. But the toy gorilla turns into a real gorilla, puts on her Dad’s hat and coat, and takes her on a special adventure.

The realisation of the story is uniformly excellent. The set is used imaginatively, moving from Hannah’s bedroom to the city at night, and beyond. Every child in the theatre, and some grow-ups too, were utterly thrilled when the two gorillas at the zoo put in an appearance (my friend’s daughter said this was the very best bit) and there is some highly skilful puppetry. I even found myself humming the “Cherry on Top” song a couple of days after the performance…

Perhaps the opening sequences, setting out the day-to-day life of Hannah and her Dad could be shorter, and I am not a big fan of the mini-scrum that happens before some performances in the smaller theatre, where this show is on, but it’s not really a problem. Those are minor quibbles in the context of what is a genuine triumph for Polka.

And what was my son’s favourite moment? “All of it!”.

www.polkatheatre.com/whats-on/gorilla

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Taking the baby “up town” to see award-winning comedy:

Review by: @rtickle74, local mum

Did we pay? Yes, full whack

Do we know the organisers? No

We’ve tried ‘scream’ cinema showings (where babies are welcome and noise is fine), but had found that Dolby surround sound and a 20 foot screen was a bit overwhelming for baby T. So I was interested to see how he’d respond to live theatre, in the first of Soho Theatre’s “Soho Screamers” performance series, offering theatre across all genres for parents and their babies under one year old, in special 11am showings.

Bridget Christie, their inaugural performer in the series, had decided to give stand-up a break, but penned one last show which she took to Edinburgh this summer. After winning the Foster’s Comedy Award, she transferred the show to London. A one-hour monologue on feminism, ‘A Bic For Her’ touches on why on earth Bic think women might need a gender-specific biro, and Sterling Moss’s views on women’s brains, amongst other topics.

I assume in her time as a stand-up she’s had some pretty tough audiences. But I’m not sure anything had prepared her for a hundred screaming babies. She made a pact with us – that she would deliver the act unchanged, if we promised to stay no matter how loud the babies cried. This was brilliant because even though we all knew it was a ‘screamer’ performance, you still get self conscious when your baby squawks over someone trying to talk in front of you.

It took her a while to settle into the act, and realise that the best course of action was to just power on through and ignore the noise. It helped, due to the nature of the act, that she could interact with us and make light of it when the wailing got particularly high. She’s an expressive performer with big facial expressions and much waving of arms, so whilst her act certainly wasn’t aimed at children (the Soho Theatre is clear on no kids over one year old, as the language and subject matter of their shows are definitely adult only), baby T was pretty captivated by her. And when he wasn’t looking at Bridget, the 90 or so babies behind us were enough to keep him interested (with the odd rice cake for added encouragement).

I applaud Soho Theatre (and @mothersplay, who instigated the series) for trying this, and would say that their first attempt was a huge success. I’m interested to see how different types of performances will work; I think a more traditional play will be a real challenge as the noise could make it hard for the actors to stay in character. I’ll definitely be returning with T to see more!

See http://www.sohotheatre.com/news/soho-screamers/ for details of future performances. Next one: “The Night Before Christmas” on Wednesday 11th December.

Booster-seats for Gaga in Brixton…

Review by: @tootingbaby

Did we pay? Yes, full whack

Do we know the organisers? No

I was delighted to hear about a new children’s theatre company on the scene, with a novel approach to performing space to boot. http://www.gagatheatre.co.uk (@gagatheatreco) took over the biggest screens in the Picturehouse cinema chain recently, to present a theatrical version of Oliver Jeffers’ Up and Down (sequel to Lost and Found, of which Polka Theatre did a great job previously) on “the velvet bit” in front of the big screens.

Despite being the company’s first production, it worked a treat; lighting, sound and visuals were highly professional and captured the 16 month old and nearly-4 year old alike. The former was delighted with the space available for mid-scene ramblings; the Brixton Ritzy hosted the play in its biggest, beautiful, vaulted-ceiling screen, so each parent had an average of three or four free seats nearby to throw change bags, coats, or to occupy restless climbers.

The ability to genuinely relax was afforded by the space-to-family ratio, as well as the top quality production. When not exploring the bouncy-trapdoor cinema seats, the smallest one gazed, laughed and gasped at the multi-sensory action on stage, before demanding her next snack. (Always snacks). Looking across at the older kids’ faces, being crammed with Haribo/dried banana crisps (depending on who’s reading this) as they laughed like @frybynight does to You’ve Been Framed, all wide-eyed at the visual effects and sitting proud on their free booster seats, (the babes sat/stood on laps) was a total treat.

Very much worth keeping an eye on what the Ga Ga Theatre Co do next. Hats off to the Ritzy too, for allowing a 95% buggy-takeover of the lobby area on a wet Friday morning. We loved it!

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Stuff we’ve done and loved

To give you a taste for the kind of stuff I (@tootingbaby) and the babydaddy (@frybynight) enjoy with the kids (oldest currently 3 and 3/4), I thought it would be worth sharing a few of our highlights of the last three or so years.

Polka Theatre in Wimbledon (@polkatheatre) has doubtless been the main focus of our early adventures in culture with the babes, most likely because they are utterly unique in providing theatre for kids ONLY, so are totally set up to entertain and stimulate the small people, whilst having a foyer you can spend an hour in with dressing up clothes and a reading corner, a playground outside and a brilliant cafe next door (it looks like a train, and there is plastic cutlery. Nuff said). You can get the 57 bus from Streatham and Tooting, which stops opposite the theatre.

Other events at which we’ve had a very high joy to hassle ratio have been Shlomo’s Beatbox Adventure for Kids (@shlomo), the superlative Tube show developed for babies by @oilycart and performed at the Tara Arts Theatre recently, now on tour (adored by then 10 month old and 3.5 yr old alike), a very first family cinema experience watching the Muppets Christmas Carol and eating our bodyweight in popcorn at the pop-up cinema run by Tooting Arts Club (@tootingartsclub) a few Christmases ago, and the kid-friendly “baby rave” hosted at the Effra Social in Brixton by the lovely new Big Fish Little Fish Events (@bflfevents) featuring DJ Food and many very happy families having proper fun together (and drinking booze in the daytime). The kids shows run by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are breathtakingly North Londony, but really lovely too. Similarly, the Bach to Baby concerts (@bachtobaby) are £10 (kids free), but utterly noisy-child friendly, and surprisingly uplifting for the parents, even if you know diddly-squat about classical music.

Films we have proper repeat requests for, and which from about 2.5yrs old kept the boy stuck to the sofa (Sunday afternoon anyone?), have been Dumbo (Disney), Lost & Found (Oliver Jeffers), Monsters Inc (Disney Pixar), Wall-E (Pixar), the Heffalump Movie, the Tigger Movie, and, of course, Finding Nemo (I’m sure Disney and Pixar were involved in those too).

Trips to the cinema at Wandsworth on a Saturday morning are ridiculously cheap, and there are the kid-friendly film sessions at the Gorringe Park pub (@gorringeparkpub) cinema room downstairs, which are totally free.

Lastly, to extinguish any vibe of competitive parenting which can sometimes pervade parenting-ideas blogs, there have of course been totally crap moments along the way. Shortened naps, hot tube journeys, excessively high expectations, a lack of snacks, a lack of Calpol, misjudged choice of event for child concerned, and rampant capitalism (I’m looking at you Night Garden Live) have all made me vow never to bother doing anything cultural ever again. But hey, provided you have no expectations of having any fun at all, are ready to have to leave halfway through with all of you crying, and have a carrier bag full of snacks, who knows what big dose of joy you could find along the way…