Determining the age range for which a production is suitable is extremely difficult because it encompasses not just an assessment of the show's content, and a subjective one at that, but also the slippery meaning of the word "suitable".
Should a sexual pun or the use of the word "piss" in a Shakespeare play mean that the performance is "suitable" only for adults? Should a children's story be cleansed of death and/or characters who attempt to kill others (eg: the wicked queen in Snow White) because murder is not a "suitable" subject for children? Should the complexity of a Shakespearean tragedy like Hamlet, or the verbal dexterity of Gilbert & Sullivan, clearly more "suitable" for adults, prevent an adult from taking a child to see these performances? If your answer, like ours, is an emphatic No to all of these, then what would make something UNsuitable?
Illyria's shows, unless explicitly stated to the contrary, are, we believe, suitable for all. Sexual allusions are not removed from Shakespeare, evil intent is not removed from Family shows. Some sexual courtship is deemed acceptable where an audience is likely to contain children; overt, explicit sexual activity is not. Actual nudity, unless stated, will not occur; simulated, implied, or depicted nudity by partially or fully-clothed actors is, when an integral part of the story, deemed acceptable and may occur. Violence of some sort is present in almost any play: swordfighting or unarmed combat is deemed acceptable, as is a level of violence we call "Tom & Jerry Violence" where the comic hyperbole of the violence exceeds its general believability.
Ultimately one's reaction to a show's content depends on personal taste. And there is no reason why that should be consistent: it is perfectly possible - even highly likely - that the person who writes to complain about the depiction of an unclothed wooden puppet by a fully-clothed actor in Pinocchio is entirely happy to take their children to see Twelfth Night with its incessant deluge of the crudest sexual imagery. Hopefully the above list, though far from exhaustive, gives some idea of OUR tastes - so you know what to expect.
What does Illyria mean by "Suitable"?
The age suitability suggested by Illyria is deemed to be that age beyond which we believe a person will have a meaningful experience by watching the show. Naturally that begs the questions Will my 5-year-old understand every word of the Shakespeare performance?" and "Will my 4-year-old enjoy your Family show?"
The inescapable truth is that few children have the linguistic dexterity or life-experience to understand Shakespeare, or other adult-themed plays, as thoroughly as adults on first hearing. However Illyria's productions are very bold and physical and funny, and children usually derive a great deal of pleasure from these elements because it helps them to grasp the characters and follow the story. Adults tend to forget that the experience of a child is to live in a world the workings of which are almost entirely mysterious to them, so children are much less bothered when they do not understand something fully. Ultimately, of course, it depends on the individual child and his/her tastes, patience (with an interval most shows have a running-time of at least 2 hours) and ability to follow anything of the language.
In the case of Illyria's Family shows the issue is more scientific: children below the age of about 4 1/2 have not yet developed the cognitive capacity to understand plot. They understand character, have a grasp of moral values and can link simple cause-and-effect sequences, but they really struggle to piece all of this together to understand Story as adults do. From the age of 5 most HAVE developed this ability. Under 5s will enjoy the spectacle and the event, but they are unlikely to understand the show - and therefore are MORE likely to become restless and to distract other members of the audience.
The ages quoted DO NOT determine whether a child of a certain age should or should not attend. They are there as a guideline to suggest that an adult, who wishes a child to understand the play and who wishes to avoid the child distracting other audience members, should take on more, or less, responsibility to explain to the child what is going on.
© Oliver Gray
Artistic Director, Illyria