I'll Take You To Mrs Cole!: 'They're both actually very positive parents in my mind'

This article is from 2019

I'll Take You To Mrs Cole!: 'they're both actually very positive parents in my mind!'

credit: Sarah Ainslie

A new show adaptation of the children's book is given a fresh twist set to ska music from two giants of theatre

One mum sets her child to work, encouraging him to do household chores – the other lives in organised chaos letting her children roam free. Two households, two very different approaches to parenthood, as depicted by author Nigel Gray and illustrator Michael Foreman in their 1985 picture book, I'll Take You To Mrs Cole!.

The title is intended as a threat to young boy Ashley, a punishment for being naughty – but by the end of the book, once he discovers what life in the Coles' home is actually like, it becomes a reward for good behaviour.

A study in cultural differences, parenting, life choices and the power of our imagination, the book is ripe for adaptation. Which is why director Catherine Alexander suggested it to Complicité, a theatre company known for its highly visual style and use of music and technology.

'What I love about the book, is I don't think there's a hierarchy in terms of one mum being a better parent than the other,' says Alexander. 'Their styles of parenting are really different, so one instils a sense of responsibility in her child about doing jobs properly, while the other mum lets go of superficial stuff to enable more freedom and play. But they're both actually very positive parents in my mind.'

Mindful that this was their first foray into creating work for primary school-aged children, Complicité joined forces with London-based children's theatre Polka to produce the show.

'Polka has a tremendous amount of expertise with young audiences,' says Alexander. 'So it's been great to have both organisations behind the show – Complicité makes work that's a bit more experimental than Polka would perhaps normally do, and Complicité can be really grounded by Polka's knowledge of work for children.'

I'll Take You To Mrs Cole!: 'they're both actually very positive parents in my mind!'

credit: Sarah Ainslie

Gray and Foreman's book doesn't specify a hometown for the two families, so Alexander chose to set the play in Coventry, the birthplace of two-tone music, which is used throughout the show. And while the book was written in 1985, Alexander has dialled it back a few years and placed the story in 1981 – a pivotal moment in two-tone's history.

'I grew up hooking into that two-tone sound and loving it,' says Alexander. 'As a young teenager, I remember also loving what it represented. Seeing bands with black and white members playing together with great joy was quite radical at the time. And there was a real sense of protest against what was happening in society, the tensions that were rising in communities in 1981 were very tangible.

'Coventry has that link to the music, so I thought let's set the show in the heart of two-tone, where it really burst forth with the Specials, the Selector and others.'

But politics and location aside, Alexander was also keen to use ska music simply for the sheer joy of it. 'When I take my son to parties, parents quite often play ska and reggae music, and the kids dance along and the parents love it,' says Alexander. 'And it does seem to be the kind of music that bonds generations.'

I'll Take You To Mrs Cole!, Pleasance Courtyard, 3–26 Aug (not 12), 1.45pm, £11–£12 (£10–£11). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £8.

I'll Take You to Mrs Cole!

  • 4 stars

A Complicité and Polka Theatre Co-Production It's 1981 and ska music pulses. Young Ashley creates havoc by getting lost in a wild, imaginative world while Mum longs to return home to Barbados. When Jedi battles and forest adventures go too far, will Mum resort to the scariest threat of all? Accompanied by an original…