London's Theatreland offers rich pickings for children of all ages. Here are five of the best shows to book now.
My Neighbour Totoro
Returning to the Barbican Theatre is the stage adaptation of the Studio Ghibli hit film, which on its original run was "the highest grossing show ever at the Barbican's theatre," said the London Evening Standard. The Royal Shakespeare Company production is "a triumph", said The Telegraph, and the "Gruffalo-like" lead character is "magnificently humongous with a mighty, reverberating growl, wicked smile, lumbering walk and bouncy castle of a fluffy tum". His "spectacular appearances" are " worth the price of admission alone", and rivalled only by the "hallucinogenic, 12-legged 'Cat-bus'".
Barbican Theatre, until 23 Mar. Book here
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
The messages conveyed in this West End musical "may be typically saccharine Disney ones – that it is vital to embrace your own magic and that love can thaw the coldest of hearts – but they are nevertheless true and important for the army of young Elsas and Annas out there", said The Guardian's Arifa Akbar in a five-star review.
The stage production is every bit as magical as the original animated film, packed with visual thrills and gorgeous choreography (by Rob Ashford), alongside signature ballads that gain greater power in their live incarnation. But "adults will note that it's more serious, sadder and wiser than the film", said Time Out, partly because of the "simple act of casting actual humans", which means the "whole thing has a much more adult sense of emotional trajectory".
All the same, said The Guardian's Chris Wiegand, "Frozen" was "hailed by critics as the perfect introduction to theatre for children" after first opening in summer 2021. But all good things must end, with the show's run due to end in September.
However, Wiegand added, a competition is being launched for UK secondary schools, one in each region, to stage their own "Frozen" production, and be "the first to present the full-length version of the show".
Theatre Royal Drury Lane, until 8 Sept. Book here
One for tweenagers and teens, the stage adaptation of "Mean Girls" is set to open in June 2024, after delays due to the pandemic. With "screenwriter turned comic superstar" Tina Fey behind the script, said Culture Whisper, the "cult appeal of the 2004 film translates slickly to the stage".
The action is updated to take account of social media, but the audience won't miss out on "all the catchphrases and caustic comedy we know and love". The hero is Cady Heron, a 16-year-old "home-schooled student totally naive to the cliquey ways" of her new high school, said Time Out.
Savoy Theatre, 7 Jun–27 Oct. Book here
Six the Musical
This award-winning musical is about the six wives of Henry VIII, "told from their perspective through songs so catchy, clever and comical that no kid will notice that the history lesson blended within", said The Mirror. Each queen tells her story through song and dance: "the bits you know well and the bits you had no idea of until now". The ending wraps it all up "with a neat knee in the patriarchy's balls, a knowing wink, and a finale song which brings the house down".
"I expect these queens to rule the West End for years to come," said The Telegraph, which applauded the "tightly drilled sextet" that make up the cast. And, at 80 minutes, the show is "laudably concise" and not too long for children to sit through. "Many bloated shows could learn from its focus."
Vaudeville Theatre, until 3 Nov. Book here
"Feelgood but not fluffy-minded", this musical features a "fleet and able cast", said The Telegraph. Gabriel Vick plays the lead role and honours "what we loved about the film without being dully emulatory". He ably carries out the "repeat feat of slipping, sometimes in plain sight, into a fake body and face mask plus tricksy grey wig, blouse, cardi, pleated skirt and spectacles".
"A thoroughly enjoyable musical that wears its heart on its sleeve, and makes up in rumbustious good humour what it lacks in originality," said WhatsOnStage. It has a "really beautiful message about the importance of finding your family, whether or not it's a conventional one". All in all, this show is the "theatrical equivalent to comfort food".
Shaftesbury Theatre, until 16 Feb 2025. Book here
Create an account with the same email registered to your subscription to unlock access.