by Sarah Cope
The BBC’s In The Night Garden has enjoyed huge success in recent years, taking over where Teletubbies left off as the programme of choice for pre-schoolers. With its gentle music and simple plots, and colourful and sometimes bizarre visuals, it was easy to see the appeal. It was also obvious that a live show would be a money-spinner, and with tickets priced starting at £14, rising to over £25 for premium seating, it has turned out to be just that.
The Brent Cross Showdome, as it turns out, is a huge inflatable venue, which was rather like being inside the intestines of the Michelin Man, if you’d care to imagine that. It was hard not to resent the extremely aggressive marketing of toys, sweets and fizzy drinks when ticket prices were already so steep (ushers bring trays of them into the auditorium so there’s no escape), and my advice to parents would be to take along healthy snacks and a toy or two to distract your rampant little consumer and hopefully save you some money!
When the show began, I was interested to see whether the two four-year-olds I had brought along would be entranced or whether they would be far too sophisticated for the show, the television version of which my daughter has recently started to call “too babyish for me.”
Things didn’t get off to a good start when the scenery – a big book structure – began to fall apart in the first minute and had to be hastily held together by stagehands. Again, with tickets costing so much I’d have hoped such hiccups could have been avoided.
There’s not much to keep parents occupied here, unlike with some kid’s shows which cleverly try – and sometimes even succeed – in appealing to everyone in the audience. There’s lots of visual stimuli, but the plot is thin – kind of like Mad Men, then, but with a lot less smoking.
However, the character Iggle Piggle’s uncanny resemblance to David Cameron led me to view the show as a clever political allegory.
The aforesaid book structure falling apart? That clearly represents the decimation of our libraries. The later malfunctioning Ninky Nonk train (again another hiccup)? A clever comment on our broken public transport system.
My husband and I were split on who Makka-Pakka represented; he saw Mervyn King, whilst I was getting more Kenneth Clarke. But Upsy-Daisy was quite obviously Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone, on account of them both having a helium-enhanced voice. Seeing this character and Iggle Piggle parade around the stage arm in arm, stopping regularly to kiss, was therefore clearly a very wry comment on the coalition.
All of the children’s favourite characters were included in the show, including the myriad of Pontipines (civil servants) and the Tumbly-Boos (backbenchers). However, this wasn’t necessarily enough to entertain the sophisticated four-year-olds in my charge, one of whom asked me, 27 minutes in, “when’s the show going to finish?” Uh-oh. Never what you want to hear.
When the show ended, the marketing immediately picked up again, with an announcement that we had only seen one of two shows (‘The Ninky Nonk’), and there was another one to see (‘The Pinky Ponk), and pay for again, of course.
Not only that: parents can pay an extra £15 for a special encounter – lasting “two or three minutes” in a “private area” with characters from the show. (Rumour is they’ll do everything but kiss…).
As we were spewed out of the Michelin Man’s intestines, I concluded that if you’re loaded and your child loves the programme, this will be a worthwhile excursion, and a decent and entertaining introduction to a theatre. But if you want to spend a little less I’d recommend looking out for a small children’s theatre company producing a show in a more intimate venue where the kids can get close to the action without you paying a premium.
In The Night Garden Live is at Brent Cross Showdome until September 24th.