Off Stage

It's hard work keeping the young entertained

Patrick Lynch.
Patrick Lynch.PHOTO: LYNGO THEATRE

British actor and presenter Patrick Lynch, 45, is an old hand at keeping the young entertained.

He has been specialising in children's theatre since 2003 and, in 2006, started presenting television programmes on CBeebies, a BBC children's television channel.

But his work is not - as some might assume - all child's play.

"You sometimes get the reaction that what you do is less serious and less important than adult theatre," says Lynch, who has two young children.

"I have never understood this. What is more important than helping to form the next generation who will be running the planet? That is the biggest chip on my shoulder."

If they don't like your show, they won't put on a polite expression and wait till the end.

ACTOR PATRICK LYNCH, on putting on a show for children. He is the titular character in Jack And The Beanstalk

He will be in town this month to perform in Jack And The Beanstalk, a one-man show with tiny houses and giant shoes as props.

The production is by Lyngo Theatre, a United Kingdom-based children's theatre company, where he is the artistic director and his wife Elena Marini is the general manager and designer. The show is presented by Singapore's ACT 3 International.

Tell us about your first performance. My first proper play was in Glasgow University, where we did Spring Awakening by Wedekind. I played a character who had to shoot himself in an emotional scene.

This was just before the interval. I had to pull the trigger and when the gun went bang, I would fall down, the theatre would go dark and I would lie on stage waiting for the audience to leave.

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  • WHERE: Drama Centre Black Box, 100 Victoria Street

    WHEN: Tomorrow to Sept 18, 10am (weekday), 10.30am and 2.30pm (weekend and public holiday)

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The theatre was small, so the audience had to step over my body to get to the exit. The next day, the director told me to get off stage immediately after the lights went off so I wouldn't be in the audience's way. So, I fell down, the lights went off and I jumped up and ran off stage. Unfortunately, it wasn't dark enough when the lights went off, so the audience saw me shooting myself, falling down and running off stage, and burst out laughing.

How did you get into children's theatre and why have you stuck with it for more than a decade?

I thank Oily Cart for that, a historic children's theatre company in London, for whom I am directing a show in November.

I started working with the company in the late 1990s and it gave me a taste of children's theatre that never left me. I have stuck with it because of the creative freedom it gives me and the emotional honesty it forces me into.

Since you started, what changes have you seen in the children's theatre scene?

I have seen an increasing commercialisation of children's theatre. Many of the more successful shows are adaptations of already successful books. Most of this is down to the marketing budget the publishing companies have.

I find it is harder to propose a completely new show with a new story.

I believe that parents - the ones who buy the tickets - are more conservative in their choices and would rather take their children to see a Gruffalo than a Professor Pants Goes To Mars kind of thing, which I think is a shame.

There are so many stories yet to be told and kinds of shows to be made. We should not limit our- selves.

What is the most important thing when it comes to children's theatre and what has been most challenging for you?

The most important thing is not to patronise the audience. When we make our shows, we make them to interest ourselves, not an imagined audience of children. Then, only after we are sure it will be a show that we would like to see, we make sure the format and delivery will be appropriate for the target age-group.

The main challenge is also the main reason I continue doing children's theatre - they won't pretend to be interested.

If they don't like your show, they won't put on a polite expression and wait till the end. They will start to talk and fidget. So, you have got to make sure you give them your best. It doesn't always work, but this challenge keeps me fascinated.

What do you do when something goes awry on stage?

There have been many moments when things have gone wrong, mainly due to technical failures, such as props not working or lights going off.

On one occasion, the technician put on the wrong CD for my show. I didn't know how to tell him and I didn't want to stop the show, so I did the whole thing with music that didn't have anything to do with what was happening on stage.

After that, I developed a system. If I say "rhubarb" at any point in the show, it is a signal to the technician that he has done something wrong with the music. If I say "custard", he has done something wrong with the lights. If you come to the show, keep an ear out for these words. If you hear them, you will know that something has gone wrong.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'It's hard work keeping the young entertained'. Print Edition | Subscribe