Kate Richards

Review Dinosaur Babies exhibition, National Museum, Cardiff by Kate Richards.

A ‘dino-mite’ exhibition for families

Truth be told, I was a bit apprehensive that my 3 year old would be too young to get much out of the new Dinosaur Babies exhibition at the National Museum, Cardiff. He’s not fanatical about them like many of his little chums, and would really prefer to play diggers than dino’s given the choice, but in an effort to support the learning he’s been doing on dinosaurs in nursery, I arranged a family visit anyway.

I need not have worried. Even after a bout of tears in the foyer on spotting a staff member wearing the world’s least scary dinosaur onesie, he was quickly distracted and won over by the variety of interactive exhibits on offer. The content of the exhibition is displayed using a range of tactile models, large images with captions, real and model skeletons, an animatronic dinosaur and traditional displays in cabinets with short easy-to-read descriptions. Many of the real ‘show-stopping’ skeleton exhibits are housed in low glass cases that can be viewed all the way around, making it accessible for little ones and easier for everyone to get a good view even at busy periods.

As a family we’re still pretty new to this type of educational, family experience and museums have moved on apace since our childhood, so I chuckled when my husband told our son not to touch one of the egg models which was screaming out for little fingers to pat and stroke it, but there were plenty of helpful staff around to reassure and encourage children to touch the exhibits – and even to ride on one of the dinosaurs!

Working as a team to dismantle and reassemble a large section of a leg bone, proved a popular activity with the little ones giving the grown-ups additional time to browse the nearby cabinets and learn about some of the most rare and exciting finds like ‘Baby Louie’ who had scientists confused until the first example of a new species of giant oviraptor was discovered as recently as 2007. The highlight for me though were the three real dinosaur eggs in which you can still clearly see the fragile bones of the unhatched animals inside.

The highlight for our little one (and most of the younger visitors there), was most definitely the opportunity to play ‘palaeontologist’ for the morning. Sporting his safety goggles, he whiled away at least half an hour digging in the large pit hunting for bones and eggs, then joining in with other children carefully brushing away the ‘earth’ to uncover their finds. The activity stations at the end of the exhibition area are perfect for very young children, and we spent a happy hour or so counting dinosaur eggs, practicing letter recognition with the magnetic letters and doing the large dinosaur jigsaw puzzles on the board.

The exhibition really lives up to the claim that it is ‘family friendly’ and it genuinely manages to achieve that tricky balance of appealing to all ages and levels of interest in the subject, so even if like me you have family members that can best be described as ‘can’t read, won’t read’ don’t be put off giving this exhibition a try. I would seriously consider going again with my nephews who are 10 and 7, and know that my son would be really excited to go again. Even better is the fact that it’s free for the under 4s (yet there is plenty that appeals to them), and with a family ticket (2 adults and 2 children up to 17) at only £17 it represents superb value for money.

Dinosaur Babies Exhibition, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff

27 May–5 November 2017, 10am-4.45pm (last entry 4pm)

Cost £7 adults, £5 concessions, £3 children, £17/£13 families

https://museum.wales/cardiff/whatson/9487/Dinosaur-Babies/

 

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    Review Zone Play Centre by Kate Richards

    Get the Chance has a broad definition of cultural provision. Some of our team are parents or carers and may access theatre, soft play, cinema and leisure facilities. We are also part of the Spice Time Credits network. The Zone play centre supports Spice Time Credit spend.

    Out of my Comfort Zone

    I have to be honest, when I opened the door of Zone Play Centre on a drizzly Sunday afternoon my heart sank. I’m not a huge fan of indoor soft play centres at the best of times, so the noise that assaulted me and the orange-tinged glow of the artificial lights combined with the total lack of windows, was almost enough to make me turn back…..but breaking a promise to my 3 year old was not an option.
    However, first impressions can be wrong. The first positive was the cost – Zone is considerably cheaper than some other options in Cardiff (£4.00 for under 4s compared to £10.50 for the same time in another well-known venue near the city centre).

    Zone is also part of the Spice Time Credits Network,costing  2 Time Credits per child.

    There is a link to the South East Wales Time Credits Spend brochure below

    http://www.justaddspice.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/SE-Wales-Spend-Issue-2-2016-Digital-update.pdf

    The second positive was the amount of seating and its proximity to the play areas; yes it makes it louder and a bit more cramped, but the grown-ups in our party were able to sit fairly comfortably with a drink, whilst maintaining sight of the children as they played, and this even though it was very busy and had two private parties going on simultaneously.
    Our party consisted of 3 adults, two 3 year olds and an 11 month old (who got in for free with his paying older sibling), and I have to say that this was one of the best suited play centres for children of those ages that I have been to. The frames are not so high and so big that the 3 year olds couldn’t cope on their own, or were at risk of going too high and getting stuck out of reach. Even better was the dedicated area for the babies. Most soft plays I have been to have an area for little ones, but often these consist of a ball pit, and some moveable soft blocks or shapes – most of which tend to be still too big or heavy for them to do anything with. Zone however had a basket of small toys (which if necessary you can take back to your table to amuse them whilst you deal with your other little one and supervise snack time or whatever). There was also a play kitchen and wendy house for them to explore as well as the usual soft balls and blocks that you would expect to find in a soft play centre. This section for the very youngest children is located in the middle of the larger frames, so you can sit comfortably in there with the baby, and still see (or be seen) by the pre-schoolers playing on the main frame – ideal for parents coping with two or more children of different ages. Again, whilst at first it seemed a bit cramped and noisy for the little ones to be in the middle of the space – it turned out to be very practical for us.
    The other positive for my son, were the cars and bikes. He’s happy to clamber up a play frame and dive down some slides for a period of time, but he will spend hours riding around on a little trike or sitting in a ‘Cosy Coupe’ car, so he was absolutely delighted at the number of those available – even at a peak time on a very busy weekend.
    We only bought cold drinks, so I can’t really comment on the refreshments on offer at Zone, but one facility we did make plenty of use of were the toilets. It’s not a pleasant topic, but it’s an important factor for any parent like me, with a recently potty-trained toddler who struggles to prioritise trips to the toilet over playing with his friends, and like most kids of this age can easily misjudge the time it takes to get from the top of a play frame, to Mummy and then on to the toilet, so we were frequent visitors. Again I was pleasantly surprised. Whilst not the most modern facilities I’ve seen, the baby changer had a clean, soft mat on it – and I think there were even wipes available (though those could have been left by another customer I suppose), and in the ladies, there was actually enough space within the cubicles to attend to my 3 year old without me having to train as a contortionist beforehand.
    By the end of our visit, whilst pleased to step into daylight and give my ringing ears a rest from the cacophony within, I had to admit, that the kids had a great time, and for young children like ours Zone play centre is very well suited to their needs.
    Zone Playcentre
    http://zoneplaycentre.co.uk/
    Entry prices

    Under 8 months Free

    9 – 11 Months £1 (Free if accompanied by an older paying child)

    1 – 4 Years – £4.00

    5 – 12 Years – £5.00

    Time restrictions of 2 hours play will apply on busy periods.

    Opening Times

    Open 7 days a week

    Open from 9:15 am to 6pm Monday to Friday

    Saturdays 10am to 6pm

    Sundays 11am to 5pm from 1st February 2017

    No admittance an hour before closing from 1st February 2017

    Kitchen Opening Times

    Open 7 days a week

    Open from 11:00am – 5:00pm Monday to Saturday

    Last orders 4.45pm

    Sundays from 11.00am – 4.00pm from 1st February

    Last orders 3.45pm

     

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      A First Trip to the Theatre, Room on the Broom, New Theatre Cardiff by Kate Richards

      The Julia Donaldson books are firm favourites at bedtime for my 3 year old son Daniel, so I was excited to hear about the stage version of Room on the Broom a year or so ago. A couple of my ‘mum’ friends took their daughters to see the show when they were just 2 years old, but I didn’t think my little boy was quite ready at that stage. This year however (and after taking him to an amateur dramatic pantomime at Christmas which he loved) I decided it was time for his first foray into professional theatre.

      All photographs © Helen Warner

      I had very little idea of what to expect, and confess to being slightly confused when the performance seemed to start somewhat ‘organically’ with all the house lights still on and the action on stage bearing little resemblance to the start of the book. After a few minutes the house lights were dimmed slowly and it became slightly easier to concentrate on the performance and get my little one to focus on the stage instead of all the other interesting sights and sounds of the auditorium on your first ever visit to a theatre. I am assuming that this slightly inauspicious start is as a result of years of experience at gently easing little ones into the performance, so actually I was grateful that my little one hardly noticed the encroaching darkness, even if we couldn’t hear the dialogue to begin with.

      The simple set was very atmospheric, and the portrayal of the witch reminded me of Miranda Hart’s TV character – bumbling and clumsy but funny and loveable at the same time – perfect for little ones. To be honest I can’t really get to the bottom of whether or not my little boy understood that actress in stripes was playing the cat, especially given that the other animals were puppets, but he didn’t question who she was. He was transfixed for the first 20 minutes or so, but I have to admit that sitting where we were in the Circle, there were lots of distractions from an inevitably noisier than average audience, and so it was sometimes difficult to follow the additional dialogue on top of the story he already knows. This didn’t help in holding his attention, but fortunately the interspersed songs and regular introduction of a new character helped him re-focus.

      I have two observations about all the additional dialogue: from a production point of view, it is necessary for a number reasons – firstly the story itself is too short for a production without some additions, secondly I have no doubt it added to the appeal for slightly older children and kept the adults amused, making the theatre production appeal to a wider age range than the book in all probability. However, for very young children I think it was perhaps harder to follow, and potentially detracted from the story itself a little, since at times even I wanted them to get on with the next bit of the story, and my 3 year old definitely lost concentration in the middle.

      The puppets were fantastic – the dog was particularly effective, with his shaggy coat emphasising the frenetic movement and constant tail wagging of a dog that is as ‘keen as can be’, but I am reliably informed by my son that ‘the frog was the best’, with his wide grin and long stretchy legs. For those parents with concerns about littles ones being scared – I would reassure you that despite the slightly fearsome roar before he came into view, the dragon turned out to be far less intimidating than my son imagined, and he soon climbed off my knee and back into his own chair, listening to the dragon’s catchy tune about wanting ‘witch with chips’ because he tired of eating ‘kids on sticks’…I still find myself singing this some days later. My son was a bit more worried by the ‘mud monster’, but since the actors were careful to ensure that the friendly puppet characters could be seen under the brown cover, I think this just proved that he’d totally bought into the story and characters on stage.

      When the production ended I was slightly surprised that my son’s instant feedback was ‘that was good Mummy’, purely because he had lost concentration for a while during the performance, and I had worried that he was getting bored, but he’d refocussed on the stage when the dragon came on, and most certainly enjoyed his first theatre experience.

      If a parent was to ask my advice about taking their child to see this production, I’d say this; don’t be in a hurry to take your child before they are able to concentrate for a reasonable length of time, the stage production would probably appeal to older children than the book does, so there is plenty of time. Book your seats carefully – the closer to the front, the fewer distractions there are likely to be from other children and the general hubbub of the audience, but then again if you have concerns that they may be scared – distance from the stage can be reassuring – judge it according to your own child. There is something in it for everyone; the little ad libs and references to current events were amusing for the grown-ups, and I overheard plenty of parents and older children around me make reference to having seen it before, so they clearly felt it worth coming back to year on year. I for one, will certainly be looking at availability for the Gruffalo later in the year after seeing this.

       

       

       

      The Gruffalo (based on the book by the same author as Room on the Broom) is on at the New Theatre, Cardiff from Thursday 31 August – Sunday 3 September 2017. Tickets from £9.50.

       

       

       

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        Review ‘Mary Poppins’, WMC by Kate Richards

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        Sitting in the Wales Millennium Centre awaiting ‘curtain-up’ at Mary Poppins, I felt slightly sorry for the cast and production crew, at the huge task they faced in trying to impress the likes of me. Not a huge fan of musical theatre at the best of times, somewhat taken aback at the eye-watering cost of taking a family of four to the theatre at Christmas, and yet at the same time harbouring high expectations of being transported to a bright, magical world far away from Brexit, the state of the NHS and all the other gloomy headlines…..I was not disappointed.

        As the curtain rose I felt my hackles rise slightly as the hubbub of the audience took too long to die down, but thankfully the volume and energy of the production soon drowned-out the residual noise and fidgeting of the younger audience.

        What followed was a fast-paced, re-invention of the story that we know and love, interspersed with just the right mix of slick ‘magic tricks’ (pulling the hat stand out of the carpet bag, sliding up the banisters and making pictures come to life) and all the big songs you’d expect from this production. I was surprised at how different the story and structure was from the original film version, but this did not diminish the production at all – in fact it made it easier to watch for those of us that are very familiar with the dialogue of the iconic film.

        The children, though ‘ringleted’ and clad in sailor dress and tank-top respectively, had a bit more attitude than I remember from the film, but I have no doubt this helped to make them more relatable to a modern audience, and helped make the whole thing a little less saccharine than I was expecting. The same could be said for Mary herself – though Zizi Strallen was every inch Mary Poppins from her clipped, received pronunciation to her turned-out toes.

        I’m still not sure how Mary actually appeared on the stage, since we were distracted (not for the last time) by the creative use of lighting above the audience, so when our eyes returned to the stage – there she stood, perfectly poised.

        The set was totally in-keeping with expectations of the house in Cherry Tree Lane (like the doll’s house you dreamed of as a girl but only collectors actually own), the colourful park and contrasting austere, greyness of the bank, and scene changes were slicker than other big budget productions I’ve seen in the West End. The pace and juxtaposition of the monochromatic scenes in London and the bank versus the vibrant colour of the park and the house scenes worked well at holding the attention of even the youngest audience members, and kept-up the momentum of the story.

        I was amused to note that the ‘pre-teen’ beside me, pointed out every wire on the kites, and each cable used by Mary and Bert for their gravity-defying moves to her mother, but considering the challenges of staging this musical, it was actually gratifying that these were the only little bits of ‘reality’ she appeared to spot through-out the evening.

        All-in-all it was the visual feast that I’d hoped for and it seems that the big budget really does buy you quality in everything from talent to sound, and costume to lighting. It is hard to pick out individual performances or highlights because the whole production worked seamlessly to create a theatre-going ‘experience’, where all the cogs meshed perfectly in a well-oiled machine. I went to see the production with my ‘Mum hat’ on wondering what my 6 and 10 year old nephews (and eventually my own child when he’s old enough) would make of it – would it be too ‘girly’ and surely there would be a very narrow window of opportunity when a child was old enough to sit through it, but not too old to dismiss it as ‘babyish’ or ‘uncool’? As I reflect on my experience, I know that my nephews would have been transfixed, and I would be so bold as to suggest that my husband would have enjoyed it too; the polished performance absolutely transported me to another world for a couple of hours so I concluded that it would be worth saving up for this as a special family treat at Christmas, and I might even give a few more popular musicals a try.

         

         

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