Katie and her grandmother have come to visit the National Gallery. Before they look at the paintings, grandmother wants a cup of tea. Katie, far too excited to go to the cafe, begs to stay in the galleries, promising not to move far away.
But she soon wanders off and makes friends with the Mona Lisa, on loan from the Louvre, and the pair go travelling through the gallery – and through the paintings the gallery holds on display.
Based on James Mayhew’s 1999 book, this short musical version of Katie and the Mona Lisa is, at times, a sweet and diverting look at art history through a child’s eyes. Unfortunately, however, the work lacks depth and rigor, feels artistically dated, and leaves the audience wanting more.
While it’s great to see a female protagonist—all too rare in work for this age range—this is undermined by some curiously regressive sexual politics: Mona Lisa informs a griffin “No lady travels abroad without a companion”; Saint George gyrates strangely and assumes a caddish demeanour; Katie’s grandmother is played by a man in a dress, apparently for cheap laughs.
A few vocal children participate in the action, and this piece tells a nice story about friendship and discoveries in art. But in a festival where work for children is demonstrating so much artistic innovation, and engaging with the minds of young people so successfully, Katie and the Mona Lisa comes up short.