For the uninitiated, the Singing Kettle is a singing group that performs musical theatre shows for children with a focus on traditional Scottish music. The Fancy Dress Party was my sons first concert and my first ‘children’s’ concert. The group was formed in the 70s and quite a few of the audience members were 30-somethings bringing their kids as an excuse to enjoy the nostalgia of the show.
The concert was all the more of an experience because it was in the Music Hall in Aberdeen. It’s a beautiful old concert hall and it was a pleasure to see the inside. The outside has distinguished granite columns (because in Aberdeen, what isn’t granite?), and the concert space has a beautifully painted ceiling and massive chandeliers.
The Music Hall was built in 1822 and was designed by architect Archibald Simpson, one of the main architects responsible for Aberdeen’s reputation as a city of granite. Originally built as a series of assembly rooms for the upper class people of both genders, the building was opened as a concert hall in 1859. Despite the grandeur of the building itself, the seating at the Fancy Dress Party consisted of metal folding chairs lined up on floor markers.
Today’s show was called the “Fancy Dress Party” and the audience was encouraged to wear fancy dress, and most of them (adults and children) did – there were cute pirates and princesses everywhere! I was not planning to dress my son in a costume, but I shoved his train engineer costume into my purse, so when all of the other kids were dressed up I looked like a brilliant mummy having thought of the costume ahead of time.
Before the show started, the staff threw giant balls into the crowd and the kids pushed them up to float through the air with their hands, which was a huge hit.
The stage decoration consisted of a giant box (big enough to hold a person) surrounded by cut out backdrops of giant articles of clothing including bow ties, a cowboy hat and a fez, as well as a clown face with a light-up nose and two white-gloved Mickey Mouse hands that could swish back and forth on mechanical arms. When the show started, the singers taught the audience a party song with actions that repeated throughout the show, as the stage fact lit up and the mechanical arms swished. My son loved it!
The premise of the show was that the Singing Kettle group and audience were having a fancy dress party and hoped that the Mad Hatter would attend. Throughout the show different guest characters would poke up out of the giant box in the middle of the stage and some would leave behind coloured kettles. When a kettle appeared, this rhyme was chanted: “Spout, handle, lid of metal, what’s inside the singing kettle?” and the kettle would open to reveal a clue about what song to sing next. I can’t tell you if the Mad Hatter appeared (no spoilers here) but I will say that the audience was not disappointed…
What distinguishes the Singing Kettle from other children’s performers is their cheek. The songs are sometimes politically incorrect and there are moments of very childish physical comedy in the stage show. The show is for children, so this makes sense. To me, they are easiest to compare to a sillier than usual combination of the Wiggles, Raffi and Fred Penner. The themes of their songs are sometimes naughty, for example the lyrics of “Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny”, but it’s all in good fun.
During the show there was an hilarious rendition of “Drunken Sailor” where they showed the sailor’s hair belly (a costume) and his anchor-tattooed nether regions. I’m not sure other children’s performers would be so daring…perhaps they would not even sing about how to sober up seamen. I think this is the best part about the Singing Kettle – the silly fun that is not tempered by pointless positive messages. That being said, there was a long skit about a gassy goose that I thought was only moderately funny and far too long.
During the show Bonzo the Dog made an appearance. I have to say that I am not a fan of Bonzo, but I was in the definite minority. Bonzo sang the male part in a spirited duet version of “Oh Soldier Won’t You Marry Me” where he dressed up in all of the clothing mentioned, including ladies knickers. Jock and Jeremy, the two chefs also made an appearance.
Overall I really enjoyed the performance and my son thought it was amazing but I think that many of the children in the audience were not old enough for a show that was 2 hours in length (including the intermission). Quite a few people in the seats around us left at the intermission because their kids where whiny, crying or sleeping, just from sheer exhaustion. The pre-show excitement high seemed to catch up with some of the younger kids about 45 minutes into the show.