The Hero Next Door: Great fun for kids and adults alike

Full disclosure, this review will be a bit biased as The Hero Next Door, by Face Front theatre, stars one of my dearest friends, Paul Wild. He plays Harry, a kindly grandfather who has fallen victim to a conwoman posing as a carer. It’s up to his granddaughter and her two new friends, refugee Musa from next door and frog-loving Hayley, to save Harry.

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I haven’t seen any children’s theatre as an adult but I absolutely loved The Hero Next Door. It was as fun and colourful as I think children’s theatre should be, but also surprisingly moving.

The play has some hard-hitting themes, particularly around refugees and the horror they face. This is a difficult subject to get across to children, but the use of sound effects and animation helped. Taj-Levi Matthews was superb in his portrayal of Musa, in the midst of a strong ensemble cast. Of course they all get upstaged by Hayley’s pet, Tadpole, represented by a jar on stage and then animated via a stage projection. I was delighted to ‘meet’ Tadpole after the show but they were quite shy. I was expecting a diva.

The projections and animation were a nice touch that stopped the set from feeling static and added extra depth. The staging itself was so simple and so clever, with very well-choreographed scene changes. I loved the way the house lit up, as did all the kids judging by their gasps at the beginning. Truly magical.

The Hero Next Door does a wonderful job of teaching children that it’s ok to be different, and puts across several timely points on the importance of welcoming refugees. There is a lovely parallel drawn between Harry’s experiences as an evacuee in World War II and Musa’s experience as a refugee from Eritrea. I teared up a bit at these scenes, looking around at the audience to see how the children were faring, I noticed that several needed a cuddle from parents, but they were paying attention.

Paul Wild as Harry centre stage

Sarah-Jane Wingrove as the villainous carer/conwoman clearly had a lot of fun and her bits with the fluffy duster were hilarious, I shall be trying that technique on my Dad when he gets too annoying. It’s a good thing I didn’t accessorise my pink dress with sparkly jewellery though else we’d have been twinning! I did try and steal the duster after the show, but this important prop had been safely tucked away.

Most amusing to me was seeing die-hard Southampton football fan Paul playing a Liverpool supporter, a true testament to his acting ability. Can I request he has to play a Portsmouth fan in the next play? *evil grin*

There’s a little bit of audience participation at the end, which everyone enjoyed. The cast then posed for photos which was the icing on the cake. I attempted to get myself a pair of Hayley’s rainbow socks, but sadly actress Katie Anna McConnell is very attached to them.

The Hero Next Door tour is now finished, but Face Front is keen to take the play around UK schools. Please visit their website for more details.

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