Owls aren't supposed to be afraid of the dark, but Plop the baby owl is. He doesn't know why his mum and dad go out in the dark to find food when they could be sleeping, he finds the daylight safer. Sick of being woken up by an anxious Plop, his mum tells him to go and talk to strangers about how exciting darkness can be. It sounds like some pretty terrible parenting - but it's all okay because Plop has a knack for finding the nicest and most helpful people. The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark at The Unicorn Theatre is an hour-long two-hander aimed at 2-6 year olds, using gymnastic physical theatre and multi-roling to tell Plop's story at a lively pace. He meets a variety of people who tell him about the best PG things the night has to offer - twinkling stars, fizzing fireworks, campfire songs, and beautiful, strange nocturnal creatures (shoutout to the hilarious motorised hedgehog who literally reverses offstage). Animation and projection bring fireworks, bats and cats to life, and tiny bright lights double up as stars. It's staged in the round with a cosy autumnal atmosphere - the leaves on the ground were being snaffled up by the youngest audience members. Children were encouraged to sit in little chairs, and adults on cushions, though some people didn't get this memo and we tried not to laugh as grown-ups struggled to squeeze into the tiniest canvas chairs known to man.
I went with my niece who is two and a half, and she was interested, though fairly scared of the dark parts (empathising with Plop there), and didn't like the terrifying screech Plop's dad makes, very different from the cute twit-twoo she knows owls to be all about. The animations are black and white, and the music is fairly sinister - it's definitely a production leaning more on an arty side. I liked it a lot, though I wouldn't recommend it for more sensitive youngsters. They do all get given a free boiled potato as part of the story, though, and this made pretty much all audience members aged between 2 and 6 very happy indeed. Check out special craft workshops (below) running alongside Saturday shows.
Afterwards we walked along the river (below) and had fun in the Tate Modern, though my niece was freaking me out a bit with her Poltergeist-esque fascination with the light boxes. This is such a fun area, the family outing needn't stop with the show at The Unicorn, and of course there's so many places to eat. I recommend the grilled cheese sandwiches at Borough Market.
This is a fun play, ideal for talking about to kids if they say they're afraid of the dark - "remember Plop, the dark has really fun things!", or something along those lines. Personally, I love the dark for sleeping, and shake my head at my niece and her whole 'leave a light on, I'm not going to sleep' line of bedtime tantrum-ing. One day, little one, you will damn well cherish precious sleep - and I think that was Plop's mum's main message too.
The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark runs until 21st November