With the state of the world being very much up in arms with the inevitable and much-needed presence of the Me Too movement, Return to Elm House interweaves nineteenth century feminism with present day gender politics as it informs the next generation of the structural inequality which still plagues society. Here, a group of fun loving and enthusiastic actors conjure up magical excitement as the ghost of Jeanie Nassau Senior is accidentally dispersed throughout the glorious Battersea Arts Centre.
Return to Elm House has all the makings of a pantomime, it interacts with the young audience while also allowing for the adults who have been dragged along to participate. When arriving for the show little did I know that I would be following around a lost ghost with a vibrating magical log which guides the way around the entirety of the centre. Jeanie is a model figure, caring for her friends and family, adopting orphan children, and most importantly, becoming a role model for future women in the good company of George Eliot and Florence Nightingale. She was the first woman to ever be hired to work for government, making way for her modern equivalents to attain basic equal rights, in the western world at least.
My guide, Elizabeth, was extremely dedicated to her role, remembering each and every member of her group’s names, including a young boy who chose to go by Frankenstein. The kids loved it, and importantly, learned. Frankenstein was shocked that men and women were not seen as equal in 1870s, questioning why Queen Victoria couldn’t just change the rules. It is uplifting to see that these children don’t see the power imbalance, but simultaneously saddening that we have to educate them in order to cultivate change rather than us adults doing it ourselves.
The show is occasionally lost as it muddles its way to separate itself from being a simple educational display. The seemingly random expression through singing in order to resurrect the fading ghost of Jeanie feels misplaced, although really, which child doesn’t love spontaneous song? The kids enjoyed themselves and I learnt about an inspirational woman whose legacy is considerably under-celebrated. However, its educational properties mean enthusiasm is prioritised over any instant of sophisticated acting.
So, perhaps, instead of taking kids to an overdone and stereotypical pantomime, consider taking them to see Return to Elm House. While it may not be so big in budget, it is big in heart.
Return to Elm House is playing Battersea Arts Centre until 30 December 2018. For more information and tickets, click here.