The Forest of Forgotten Discos – Contact Theatre (Hope Mill Theatre)

What happens to your teddy bears when you grow up and forget about them? According to playwright Jackie Hagan, they live in a forest with other forgotten things. This is no ordinary forest though. It is a forest where discos used to happen all the time, but are now as forgotten as the bears. The three bears are joined by Red, a young girl who has run away from home. Along with an android, Alexa, who is comprised of forgotten technology, they try to invoke the power of disco, so they can bring it back to the forest.

The Forest of Forgotten Discos is a new family show that is aimed at children aged 5+. However, with such a wide target audience, the play suffers slightly from not really being aimed at a specific age group. It has serious moments, as Red reveals that she leaves home because feels forgotten, as her dad has a new girlfriend.  The bears recount sad stories about when their owners forgot them. These moments slow the pace of the play, disrupting the fun, and may be too serious for younger children. The youngsters in attendance at the show I watched certainly got a little restless at these points.

Nonetheless, there are plenty of fart jokes, an interactive game of ‘catch the sprouts’, and lots of dancing, that proved to be a great success with all the kids. Not having any children of my own, it was lovely to see them having a great time at the theatre. Considering that, for many of the audience, this will be their first experience of going to watch a play, the cast work really well at getting them involved. This is particularly true of Sophie Coward’s Alexa, who scans everyone as they arrive, revealing their deepest secrets, such as ‘You have already eaten all the chocolates in your advent calendar’. Everybody who enters the forest must be scanned. It is a concept that is utterly charming.

Bear Grills (Marcquelle Ward) and Alexa (Sophie Coward)

Where this play truly succeeds is in its inclusivity and accessibility. The theatre is adorned with cushions and soft furnishings that make its environment instantly welcoming. Without any harsh lighting or intense music or sound effects, it feels like a relaxed performance. The Forest of Forgotten Discos also perfectly incorporates British Sign Language into the show. One of the bears, Bear Minimum, has a missing ear and is deaf. All the characters in the play use sign language at the same time as speaking their dialogue. It is the first play that I have ever seen that is fully accessible to any audience member, no matter if they have a disability or not. Remarkably, it also teaches its audience how to sign, by encouraging them to join in. I now know how to say ‘disco ready’ in BSL, all because of this play.

For a new play, staged at Christmas time, it also bravely makes the decision to err away from Christmas, focusing on forgotten discos instead. There are mentions of Christmas, but it doesn’t really expand on them. It makes a nice change from the materialistic consumerism that we are constantly bombarded with at this time of year. Because it focuses on disco, it is hard not to enjoy the show. I think even The Grinch would put his bear paws in the air and dance along to it!

The Forest of Forgotten Discos is a much needed antidote to Brexit, and all the other negativity in the world at the moment. It is fun, lively and entertaining. Get your disco boots on and catch it at Hope Mill Theatre before it finishes on December 23rd!

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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