By Nick Pelling 

If you are looking for something unusual, exciting, and maybe even off-beat to take your children to, look no further. Hastings Museum and Art Gallery is hosting two performances of an unusual show entitled Animals! on the first day of May. It has been produced by the local ‘Dens & Signals’ creative performance company and it’s all about the earth’s amazing creatures and likely to bring kids much furry fun. It should also give the young people something to think about.   

The show is meant to be, in some ways, educational, without being preachy. The key idea behind the narrative is that there is one type of animal that is causing a lot of trouble for the rest. Guess who? Yes, it’s us.  This may sound like a familiar theme, but the creators of this show are very keen not to make their subject pompous or scary.  They have been careful to create an experience that is lively, uplifting and maybe even inspiring. The team behind the show say, “we want people to leave with a new perspective on animals and humans.” And maybe “with
a desire to do something to help.” But, above all, they stress that Animals! is going to be entertaining, with interactive games and songs.   

CREDIT: Rosie Powell

The show celebrates the incredible wildlife all around us. It was first commissioned by the Coventry City of Culture team – supported by the Art Council England.  It has been performed to hundreds of primary school children and families across the country. It will be performed in five primary schools in Hastings and Rother in April this year. Wherever the show has been performed it has tended to generate much positive feeling. The Guardian critic, for example, called it “a deft and imaginative experience.” 

The ‘Dens & Signals’ arts group, led by Jane Packman and Ben Pacey, have been working together since 2015 and have honed their skill at putting across performances that deal with complex issues in a way that a young child can grasp but that they can also simply enjoy. It is a very difficult combination to put together, but Hastings Museum is confident that parents and children alike will find much in this show.  

There can be no doubt that Hastings Museum and Art Gallery offers a great deal for young people: everything from origami workshops, Lego learning sessions, art competitions, and, of course, all the various exhibitions. And for older children – inclusive of those ones we call adults – there is, the great range of stories within the museum. The tale of Archibald Belaney is surely one of the jewels in that particular crown. He was a young man from Hastings, brought up by his fierce Aunt Ada, who then went on to pass himself as ‘Grey Owl,’ a venerated member of the Ojibwa native American tribe. In this guise he toured Britain in the 1930s, to explain how we should live in harmony with beavers, buffaloes and otters, and indeed the whole animal kingdom. 

Archibald had a point. It is a message that comes to the Museum again in a whole new way this May, and I trust it
will be just as beguiling and inspiring. 

  Performances of Animals! Sunday 1 May at 11am and 2pm at HMAG. Suitable for children over 6 years and the whole family. 

  For bookings go to the link: bit.ly/animalsHMAG (eventbrite)


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