Going to the theatre is one of my great passions. Yes the cinema is great, especially Toy Story 3 in 3D with a bucket of popcorn and vat of Sprite, but there's something extra special about getting a little bit dressed up, sitting in an uncomfortable seat and having real actors within spitting distance. Not that I've ever spat of course. I have seen some rubbish in my time, the very worst being some Kabuki at the Lowry which I'm going to be charitable about and presume I just didn't get, but even then I only sneaked out at the interval and went to the pub.
It's probably no surprise then that I want to introduce the children to theatre. I'm not talking about Les Mis for toddlers of course, there is now a whole industry offering plays and shows to little people including adaptations of favourite books and spin offs from TV programmes. But how good are they?
At the weekend we went to Liverpool to see 'In the Night Garden Live'. T was very taken with the 'igloo' inflatable theatre in Sefton Park. I was less taken by the ticket prices, £10 each (including the baby) and that was for a 5.30 pm 'cheap' show. We booked the seats four months ago and actually in the intervening time T has stopped watching ITNG. In fact we watch barely any children's TV at all, so I was a bit worried whether he'd like it. I needn't have been. In fact I needn't have complained about having to pay for 9m old C either as I think she enjoyed it even more.
The show was a mixture of 'life sized' characters and puppets, playing on the skewed scale featured in the TV programme. Makka Pakka for example was 'life-sized' (by which I mean he was obviously being played by a strapping bloke inside a hot suit) when on stage on his own and puppet sized when interacting with other characters. There was even a mini-puppet pushing an Og-Pog which 'walked' across the garden/stage in a sort of long shot.
All of the favourite bits from the TV show were in there, the Tittifers, complete with nodding beaks, appeared on the igloo's ceiling in an effect which made me feel a bit seasick, but all the children present seemed to like them.
The downsides then. The storyline was pretty weak. We saw the Pinky Ponk show (there is also a Ninky Nonk version, perhaps encouraging parents to take their little darlings twice) which basically involved Makka Pakka washing faces. I appreciate the audience was very young but the show was an hour long and even the half hour TV episodes are a bit more complicated than that. There were also some technical issues where images that should have been shown on the roof were missing or out of time with the soundtrack. At one point bubbles floated out over the audience from a machine at the back of the theatre. Well, I say the audience, they reached the back couple of rows in the centre and that's about it.
Like I said, the children (particularly C) were entranced by the whole thing, which was wonderful to watch, but I was left a little disappointed.
In the last couple of months we've also seen two other children's productions, Long Nose Puppet's adaptation of Polly Dunbar's fabulous book Penguin and Travelling Light/Sixth Sense's one man show of Bob, the Man on the Moon. At £3 each, they were both one third of the price we paid for ITNG Live. We have been listening to the Penguin soundtrack (written by Tom Gray of Gomez) ad nauseum in the car for weeks and have constant requests for the Bob book at bedtime. Interestingly, post Sunday's theatre trip though, T hasn't asked for, or mentioned, ITNG again.