‘Dealing with a difficult issue in an interesting and fun way.” Aunty Ben
I was very interested to review this show as I believe that it carries an important message for children and adults alike and I was not disappointed.
Inspired by a friend of Writer and Director Sian Ni Mhuiri, Aunty Ben follows the story of Tracey who’s ‘Aunty Ben’ is a drag queen and is a piece about acceptance and being happy with who you are no matter what others think or say.
Tracey loves her Aunty and raves about his fabulous flat full of the best dressing up clothes imaginable, christmas decorations, glittery bits and bobs and a making area where Aunty Ben makes his fabulous costumes for his shows. The set is minimalist but cleverly multipurpose with a variety of boxes scattering the stage which are used as dressing up boxes and with lids which flip to reveal Aunty Ben’s trinkets for his flat. The projection screen at the back of the stage is used to great effect creating the scenery and embellishing Aunty Ben’s tales of how others have always be un-accepting of him throughout his life with hand drawn animation. The original soundtrack throughout is very fitting and helps with the atmosphere of the story.
After Tracey’s friends find out that her Aunty is actually an Uncle in a dress, makeup and a wig they are confused and scared by what they don’t understand and shun Tracey, embarrassed to ask the questions they really want to about their friend’s favourite relative.
Amy Flood, Sophie Dobson and Lorcan Strain play the three children. Adults playing children can sometimes be difficult but Amy Flood who played Tracey created a believable character conveying especially well a child like excitement and at times naivety, however Lorcan Strain did become a little grating at times twisting his shirt and biting his lip constantly to convey his childlike confusion about Aunty Ben. Aunty Ben played by Shane Connolly definitely looked the part throughout but at times lacked the emotion you would expect to see in someone recounting their painful tales of rejection from their past.
The show keeps a good pace throughout and never feels like a ‘lecture’ in equality however there is one piece at the end where Tracey stands on stage and faces the bullies head on explaining why they should accept her and her Aunty Ben and I don’t really think this was needed as this message is conveyed throughout the piece in other ways.
The children in the audience seemed to be enraptured the entire time. With a lot of kids theatre you often expect to be interrupted by excited voices or fidgety little ones but throughout this hour long show I didn’t hear a peep!
As I went sans child I thought I would ask some kids afterwards what they thought of the show. It seemed across the board that they enjoyed themselves immensely and definitely didn’t feel like they were being taught a ‘lesson’ in acceptance and equality. They all thought it was funny, and interesting and they all loved Aunty Ben’s outrageous outfits. I asked a couple of Mum’s also who thought, as I did, that the show was suitable for adults and kids alike and conveyed it’s important message well and in an interesting way. As we were leaving the theatre there was a chance for children to meet Aunty Ben in the Green Room and I think this was a nice idea.
I think that overall this is a valuable piece that deals with a difficult issue in an entertaining, informative and fun way and is well worth a watch. As one little boy exclaimed as we left the theatre ‘Can we go again?’.