Dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-de-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dumdumDUM EXPLORE! RESCUE! PROTECT!
Yes, it’s finally time for my Octonauts Live review. All the giveaways, interviews, school-wrangling, rearranging and queuing over the Dartford crossing lead to this….two hours to kill in Central Park, Dartford.
I like to be early, y’see, especially when the journey involves the entire M25′s worth of traffic being funnelled over a single bridge. So, we were taking no risks and arrived in Dartford at 1:30 for a 4pm show. So, to the local park it was, chasing a police helicopter which was using the same park to land in. Exciting times in Kent.
The park was also quite exciting. A separate toddler pay area, segregated with bushes from the bigger frames and the zip wire. Then there was a whole fake beach setup, complete with beach huts and a lighthouse. The kids enjoyed posing with a saucy seaside postcard:
Roo also fancied a bit of cake at the park café but they didn’t take card and we needed to save change to go through a tunnel later (not that I’m bitter about that, no no. But £2? For a tunnel? At least with the bridge you get a view). So we went to a Costa near the theatre, along with every other middle-class family and their octo-clad kids.
And then…showtime. As we settled into our seats, an announcement by Dashi told us we were in the Gup X and were heading towards the Octopod. She counted down the minutes until curtain up time, and then two humans in Octo-uniform arrived to hype the audience up and show us the moves for driving the Gup-A.
I won’t tell you to much more about what happened, because I don’t want to spoiler it for all you readers who have yet to see it (including my competition winners, I believe) but it did not disappoint. There were lifesize Octonauts characters, and some puppetry (Tunip and the sea creatures). There was an exciting plot worthy of the best Octonauts episodes, involving a daring volcano rescue. I was worried that the live show would remove some of the peril from the show and make it gentler for the toddlers but no, this was full-on adventure. I don’t often get to use the word “aghast” but there’s no other way to describe the way Reuben’s face looked when the curtain fell on a cliffhanger. The Octonauts were in danger and he thought the show had finished and that he’d never know what happened. Luckily, it was only an interval and they managed to get out of danger again (sorry, was that a spoiler? Don’t tell your kids). And the tension kept mounting in the second half – as Barnacles battled to get away from the volcano, Eva hugged in tight under Nathan’s arm and grabbed his leg. As Richard Lewis, Director and Writer, said, they were utterly transfixed.
Director and writer you say? Why yes, happy coincidence had placed us right next to the brains behind the whole thing, who just recently had a Q&A on this very blog. We chatted about how much the kids in the audience seemed to be loving it, and how there were moments of almost complete silence as every tiny face gazed at the stage. The “Peppa Pig” principle of having shouty bits and quiet bits was working well. Even when Eva got up to dance, as she did for every song, her eyes were glued to the stage as she twirled, only whipping her head round at the last moment. Claire Goodwin would have been proud. It was certainly a crowd-pleaser, and Richard seemed pleased with how things were going. Even if there was one noticeable technical hitch, when the curtain got stuck on Tweak’s ears (but such a cute technical hitch!).
Given it was such a technically complex production, one technical hitch was hardly surprising. After all, there was video, pre-recorded sound, changeable sets and a whole midnight-zone section that relied on puppeteers and UV lighting. That was very impressive, especially the siphonophore. I’m not sure how they did it, because the puppeteers were actually invisible (rather than invisible in a theatrical kind of way, a la “In the Night Garden”) but it looked amazing. The volcano itself was also very well done. It certainly made the kids genuinely fearful for Captain Barnacles’ life – afterwards, Reuben said “there were some happy bits but also some worrying bits”. He really enjoyed it though, and this morning I came downstairs to find him performing his own version with all his Octo-toys. Eva was just picking up the characters and saying “Ooh…Tweak! She was in de show! Ooh Peso! He in de show too!” It definitely made an impact.
So, what would my criticisms be? We’re Octonauts devotees and have an obsessional level of knowledge, so there were bound to be a few things that didn’t sit right. Kwazii’s voice, for one. Of course, all the voices sounded different to the TV versions (except Tweak, who was pretty much spot-on) but we got used to them. Kwazii just sounded a bit too fey and not as gruff as you’d expect. When I was trying to think who it reminded me of, the closest I got was Jake from “The Tweenies”. Sorry, Kwaz. As I said, I was only because we are such Octo-addicts that we would notice these things.
The other part that didn’t quite work for me was having a human cadet on the Octopod. I know it’s probably a good principle in kids’ theatre to have someone with a face that the kids can relate to but it seemed unnecessary. The kids were totally engaged with the familiar Octonauts (who are pretty anthropomorphic anyway) so the human was a bit surplus to requirements. It wasn’t anything bad, it just felt not quite needed. Another thing I could live without are those spinning light things that now seem to be routinely sold at kids’ theatre shows. I find them a wee bit distracting (not that the kids noticed – a hurricane probably wouldn’t have distracted them!)
Apart from that, I can’t criticise anything. It was a superb production, hitting just the right balance of drama and comedy and totally absorbing for both kids and adults. The songs were truly in the spirit of the Octonauts – stirring and hearty – and the visuals reproduced the CGI world as faithfully as you could ever hope for. A marvellous family show and one that every Octo-addict needs to see!