The Night Pirates, Rose Theatre Kingston

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You’re fast asleep in your bed, in a small English town. Then some mysterious noises outside wake you, and on looking out your window you discover a gang of pirates is trying to steal your family home. What do you do?

Ask to join them, of course!

Tom does just this when, in the midst of a spate of mysterious robberies, he discovers that the piratical girl group in his front garden know who the culprits are and are in hot pursuit. This fun but tame adventure story for little ones is given an energetic musical treatment that is well done, but lacks innovation.

Adults and kids alike love pirates. Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright’s The Night Pirates is one of many pirate books for children under 6, but this one puts girls at the forefront of its narrative. Unfortunately, it only partially turns gender stereotypes on its head, and the all-white cast doesn’t aid any hints of theatrical progress. Though the gang of girl pirates show bravery and leadership, it is ultimately Tom’s story. Their cleverness defeats the smelly grownup pirates who have stolen people’s cherished possessions, but by referring to them as ‘little girls’ throughout, they are disempowered.

The more climactic moments are glossed over and jokey, no doubt to avoid scaring the children. But even young kids can handle small amounts of fear, and to not show the characters experiencing any nervousness in extreme situations is a disservice to emotional acceptance – it’s ok to be scared, and you cannot be brave if you already feel safe.

Deborah Mingham’s design, particularly costume, is excellent. Oversized and cartoonish, the bright colours effectively capture the book’s illustrations. Fantastical and fun, there’s more than a little hint of Disney in their aesthetic.

Even though the show takes a safe route for some of theatre’s smallest audiences, the children are engaged and responsive to the actors’ requests for participation. It’s a visually stimulating show that takes steps towards female-led narratives, but it doesn’t challenge or progress theatrical form or social attitudes.

The Night Pirates runs through 16 September.

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