I’m at Polka Theatre in Wimbledon enjoying a performance of The Jolly Postman, adapted by Polka’s own Jonathan Lloyd from the book by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. As usual at Polka the show is exquisite and the children - it’s almost a full house - are having a whale of a time.
But there is something odd about this audience and the more I look round the more aware of it I am. Most of the children are aged 4-7 ish because that’s the group the show is billed for and there’s no school today so many are in groups with a couple of mothers. But for every little boy present there are at least ten little girls.
Why? Could it be that there’s something in the water in South West London which means that ten times as many girl are born as boys? Seems unlikely. There are bound to be families where there are only daughters - as in Bob Geldof’s brood - but equally, there are always other families like the Beckhams which produce only boys. Logically you’d expect it to balance out in a theatre audience.
So I conclude that, if this audience is typical, what I am observing is a worrying bit of early stereotyping - an assumption that passive little girls will enjoy sitting in the theatre while the boys go out and do something more macho such as play football with Dad.
As the mother of two boys, now grown up, I don’t of course approve of this although it’s long been the norm for ballet. I remember taking my younger son, aged about 10, to see Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and we were surrounded by willowy girls in beautiful frocks. I think Felix was the only boy in the house but he and I just laughed about it.
I was, however, taken aback to notice this trend at mainstream theatre aimed at such young children. If parents don’t take boys to ‘sissy’ (?) theatre in their formative years it’s hardly surprising that stage schools - and, later, drama schools - have such difficulty recruiting boys. If I’m right the potential interest of many boys is being stifled before it is born.
Do we need an awareness campaign about the life long importance of seeing performance for both sexes? Have producers noticed any trends? Has anyone done any research on which children parents bring to theatres and why?