The theater is built to suit its small patrons. The auditorium is small and intimate, with just 10 rows of curved seats. Those in loco parentis are relegated to the back of the small house. Last week, at the performance of “Annabelle’s Star,” the children crowd into the front seats and started to make friends quickly. There were roughly 40 of them, all chattering with excitement.
The music started and a woman dressed in a green clown suit took center stage. She did little for the first few minutes except wake up slowly as if from a deep sleep. Even at that early stage, it was easy to see that the children wanted a bit more action. They didn’t quite seem to know what to make of this androgynous figure, twitching her nose. They soon got what they wanted when stars and other objects flew around the stage with the help of the house puppeteer. “It’s behind you,” shouted the audience, reverting to tried and trusted pantomime antics. A dress appeared on stage. “Put it on, put it on,” came the chant from this demanding group.
The production of “Annabelle’s Star” is 45 minutes long. It is billed in the program as “A journey through loss, hope and acceptance.” The children may have missed the more subtle messages but certainly seemed to enjoy the music, the puppetry and the excitement when “Annabelle” came around to shake their hands or to show them a number of “magic” props e.g. a glowing crystal or a miniature doll of herself. Eight-year-old David Fitzgerald, who is from from Castleknock, Dublin, thought the performance was “fantastic, especially the flying stars and music.”
While the performance may have been quite avant garde for children, the organizers make no apologies for that. “We provide high quality entertainment for children; this is not crayons and blue tack,” one of them said.
The venue for all this activity is The Ark. Based in the Temple Bar area of Dublin, it is one of the few, if not the sole, cultural centers for children in Europe. Temple Bar has been rejuvenated over the last 10 years. Situated on the south side of the River Liffey, it has become the home to various art galleries, theaters and cultural offerings. At the weekend, there are outdoor markets selling fresh produce and cheeses. The Ark was constructed as part of the redevelopment of the area and is housed in the city’s first Presbyterian Meeting House, which dates from 1728. It has proved to be one of the main draws in the area.