I recently went to a performance of Oliver!, and was unfortunate enough to be sitting next to a family with a little girl of about three or four years of age, who proceeded to yell, complain, and cry throughout a large chunk of the performance. Whilst I fully support parents introducing their children to live theatre rather than sitting them in front of a screen all day, it was highly distracting, and did make me wonder at what age it could be considered appropriate to bring a child to the theatre.
Wicked, of course, being a family musical, suffers from this problem. The website recommends it for children over eight, and refuses to let in children under the age of four – and at two hours and fifty minutes long, I think these are reasonable guidelines. Not only are there occasional frightening moments (let’s admit it: we all jumped in our seats the first time we heard the Oz head speak!), but at two hours and fifty minutes long, there are few small children who would be able to sit through the entire performance quietly. Whilst there are always some children younger than the recommended age who would be capable of sitting through a long show, there are many who would not, and parents need to seriously consider whether their child can stay still and quiet for that amount of time before deciding to bring them. If they’re unsure, there are a number of shorter musicals they could take them to; Wicked is, after all, a particularly long show. If they can cope well with shorter productions, maybe then they could try out a longer show like Wicked or Oliver! – but if your child clearly cannot stay quiet, then parents, please, wait a year or two. It’s not fair on your fellow audience members, and it’s not fair on the cast who have to perform through these disruptions, either.