AHOY adventures at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich

What a journey my soon-to-be 7-year-old had with his school friend yesterday. We took them to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich to see ‘Against Captain’s Orders’, the latest Punchdrunk children’s theatre production.

The journey started with the children putting on the lifejackets and divided into crews made of navigators, midshipmen, ship’s watches and salvages. The children then were taken into an adventure through the number of brilliantly decorated with the old maritime artefacts rooms in a search of four mysteriously disappeared objects which include a sextant, a ship’s bottle, Grace Darling’s telescope and Drake’s drumstick.

They were made to believe they were on board of HMS Adventure and moving swiftly through the dark corridors into the back rooms of the museum (dusty rooms in old design filled with nautical bric-a-bric, could spent hours rummaging through the artefacts!).

The two actors leading the party were absolutely brilliant, utterly convincing and managed to inject a high level of fear, urgency and danger into the whole quest.

And here is where different parents will have different opinions I guess. My friend’s little boy (7-year old) was absolutely fine, taking part in the quest and was very engaged and ‘brave’ as Conrad would later say ;-).

But Conrad, to the contrary, has not enjoyed the play at all. It was simply too terrifying and too tense for him. Initially he was holding my hand very tightly only to ask some minutes later when we moved into the dark room whether ‘he could go to sleep’ (admittedly he was rather tired due to his 6am rise that day!). And soon he was shaking and telling me his tummy hurts really badly after which I have asked a security person to let us out.

He was utterly relieved when we finally got out into the daylight 😉 and was back to his happy himself a few minutes later. When we were inside the set I have tried to explain him that it is an experimental theatre only, that the two people are a very good actors but even though he has understood he still was not able to overcome his fear.

I think the creepy decor, very loud music, some special effects (smoke, ultra red lights) and general atmosphere of fear and urgency did not help.

There were two more boys leaving the play (one in tears) a few minutes later so to be fair he was not the only one being terrified.

From the hindsight, I think the show was great, the idea brilliant, the props of a very high quality and the actors and the play itself utterly captivating.

However the only thing I would suggest for the company in the future is to take into account the different sensitivities of each and every child. We are talking about some 6, 7, 8 and 9 – year olds whose emotional development varies greatly at this stage (the play is being advertised for 6-12 year olds). It is very difficult for a parent to asses how ‘scary’ the play is going to be for obvious reasons.

As it is not the usual type of play but a rather experimental (and fearsome ;-)) piece of a theatrical experience it is even more important to take the above into consideration. I would suggest two different modes of the same play being performed at different times i.e. one with charged up, fast acting and many special effects and another one with a much slower pace, gentler music, less tensity and more fun orientated kind of play aimed at more sensitive children (namely all three including mine who’s parents were forced to leave the show halfway through yesterday).

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But luckily that was only the beginning of our journey as soon after that the boys have embarked into exploring the National Maritime Museum. We went to the level 2 to the hands-on children’s gallery. Conrad enjoyed reading about different explorers, learning about the ways of communicating at the sea and playing with different food, cargo and navigation systems.

We then went to look at the Great Map located on the Upper Deck of the Museum (impossible to miss as it is utterly large!). The boys took one tablet each (which has greatly contributed to the enjoyment of their experience!) and lost themselves into an interactive game. They had to find different places (28 in total) on the map, tap on the place and discover different facts as well as collect different treasures from around the world.

It was not easy at times but it was a great fun and has most certainly contributed to their knowledge of the countries and their location on the map. It reminded me of Bio.., our French ‘nature v modern technology’ experience (read here …..) with the small difference in area namely ‘geography v modern technology’ in here.

These interactive ways of learning really do appeal to our children. There is certainly a very close bond between our children (iGeneration) and modern technology (iPads) whether we approve it or not. I think as long as the modern technology is being used responsibly then there can only be beneficial to the educational development of our little inquisitive minds.

The boys have also visited the ‘AHOY!’, new children’s gallery (aimed for under 8s but there was plenty for them to keep them busy) and engaged themselves in block building, working out the direction of the ship in line with the blowing wind and playing an interactive navigation game.

There was plenty more for them to do but that was all we had time for. We will most certainly be back, this time with the other two, really looking forward to it.

What has added to a fun factor was a fact that we came to Greenwich by ferry! We took Thames Clipper which is a river commute service hence its prices are very low (paid £14 return for both myself and my son tickets). The journey was equally interesting for both the boys (they were deeply engaged in London famous landmarks spotting) and their mums (had Costa coffee both ways, what a treat! ;-)).

And as always with the little adventures thrown in ie on the way in a piece of timber got stuck under our boat so we had to evacuate at London Bridge and wait for the next one (just about managed to make in time for the play with 5 minutes to spare! ;-)) while on the way back my latte went flying high into the air when a barista was passing it on to me (a boat was speeding rather fast ;-)) but luckily I managed to jump off so no damage caused (still a big chocolate cookie offered in apology ;-)).

So the conclusion is – you can never be certain as to what adventure is going to be the greatest of all. Quite often (as it was for Conrad yesterday) the ones we are looking forward the most are only the beginning of something much greater and interesting ;-). He loved the Maritime Museum and the river journey the most! 😉

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