The Real Danger of UKIP

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I know, I know…this has nothing to do with London toddlerness. But I live in London and I’m damned if my toddlers are going to grow up under the thumb of Farage. How will my poor son-of-Israel boy be able to wander Walthamstow if the Neo-Nazis are holding hate rallies outside Waltham Forest Town Hall? (And trust me, the Town Hall is the ideal base for a fascist party. It really lends itself to extremism)

But UKIP won’t get in the next election, will they? After all, they’re a pretty minority party still. True, the National Socialists were in the minority too, but this is 21st Century Britain and we don’t fall for the wholesome old “Kinder, Kirche, Kuche”, fresh air and exercise, fascism-is-your-friend routine do we? Oh, except that apparently UKIP are now a “major party” who will be allowed to take part in TV debates in the run up to the election, a privilege the poor Green Party have never been offered.

And that, to me, is the real danger. The media are letting Farage speak. And what he says is pretty darn ugly.

People diss political correctness, but it has moved our society on at an unprecedented rate. It was only 40 years ago that “Love Thy Neighbour” was prime-time telly – as Wikipedia describes it, it was about a “suburban white working class couple in Twickenham attempting to come to terms with having a black couple as next-door neighbours”. Attempting to come to terms with it. That’s brave of them. Political correctness isn’t about not calling coffee “black” or making children sing about rainbow sheep. It’s about not using language as a weapon against people who are in some superficial way different to you.

Of course, Farage is too clever to start spouting off about “darkies” and “poofters” but his rhetoric is consistently one of division and blame. Take his response to the horrific events in Paris, which apparently were the fault of “multiculturalism”. They weren’t. They were the work of people who were unhinged. And those, my friend, you get in even the most Aryan of cultures.  But taking the opportunity to rile up anti-Muslim feeling is not only grossly inappropriate, but also hugely insensitive to the family of Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim police officer who was shot at point-blank range while begging for mercy. Yes, Muslims are victims of terror too. It pays to remember that sometimes. And I have little time for anyone who curses religion in general for these killings – but that’s a whole other subject. General rule of thumb – if God is telling you to kill a load of people, that probably makes you a psychopath rather than a zealot. Hope that helps.

But back to topic in hand.  Farage has often tried to distance himself from the more extreme elements of his party – the ones who trivialise rape and blame gay marriage for the floods – but you have to wonder why these extremists are attracted to his party in the first place. Simple – encouraging division empowers the already-prejudiced. Do you have racist, homophobic or bigoted views that you’ve tried to repress throughout these achingly liberal times? Well, UKIP is here to give you license to express them. Giving views like this a platform in the media makes it once again acceptable to have these views. Does that explain why UKIP’s website says “No to Political Correctness – it stifles free speech”? They aren’t interested in free speech. They’re interested in rolling integration and acceptance back half a century.

And that naturally lends itself to the other policies on the website – increased immigration controls, making migrants “ pay into the pot before they take out of it” etc etc etc. It’s policy that’s been disproved time and time again – with stats on how British emigration balances European immigration, reports on how immigrant workers are basically propping up the NHS and good old anecdotal evidence how multiculturalism – especially in London – actually makes life more interesting. I bought some Turkish biscuits just yesterday. But UKIP were handed some gifts last year – the murder of Alice Gross by a Latvian immigrant with a criminal record (allegedly), the flights to Syria taken by radicalised schoolgirls – and all of this has whipped up hysteria that a canny politician can capitalise on.

He’s not proposing to round up all the immigrants and put them in concentration camps, along with the Jews and the Gays and the Communists but this constant repetition of “Them vs Us” is seeping into the public consciousness and that’s terrifying. It appeals to the nice, normal family-orientated people who worry about the state of the country. It appeals to the thugs who are baying for a fight. It appeals to the Jihadists who just need one more push to make them take revenge. Words are powerful. To go back to religion for a minute – what is that built on, if not words? And look at the sway that religion has. Don’t let Farage’s slogans become gospel.

I don’t have a solution to this country’s woes. If I did, I’d go into politics and make millions claiming back duck houses. But I don’t. All I know is that if anyone is offering an easy solution, you shouldn’t trust them. Farage will not fix this country. But he has the power to break it. And that is the danger of UKIP.

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Walthamstow Wanders

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December was both a busy and a sickly month and January has not – as yet – been a massive improvement. But in between the stomach bugs and theatre trips we have occasionally managed to do some wandering around Walthamstow, finding new and interesting places to tell you about. I’m not saying they’re all both new and interesting, obviously. That would be an overpromise and a half.

Let’s start with a trip to the new cinema, the Saturday before Christmas. Now, I remember opening a cinema. Twice! I remember the pain and the constant disasters. I especially remembered it when I got into the lift at the Empire – thanks to the power of contextual memory, stepping into the lift at a new build cinema will always fill me with a sense of dread and a literal plummeting feeling. But the lift worked fine!

The concession stand? Now, that was a bit more creaky. We were going to the Saturday morning kids’ show –  an old film (“Arthur Christmas”) at a bargainous £1.75 a pop, including adults. The last time we’d tried to see that film we’d failed dismally, but did meet Rastamouse, in a bizarre twist of events. Now, it was time to stop messing around with chillaxed rodents and actually see it. It seemed to be a popular move – the buggy park was filling up, and the foyer resounded with the joyous noise of childish enthusiasm. So I was a bit surprised that asking for the “family combo” (2xSnack Packs, 2xAdult Drinks, 1xPopcorn=£9.99) almost completely floored the girl serving us. Had no-one else wanted that? We did get it eventually, but everyone seemed terribly unsure about what might or might not be in it, despite the big sign advertising it behind them.

But hey, I remember. I sympathise. I was that confused popcorn seller in 1999. I was (Heaven help me!) trying to manage a team of those confused popcorn sellers in 2002. I do know what’s it’s like. But be aware, Walthamstow Parents. It’s not slick yet.

We were also sitting very close to the screen, a position that many of the aforementioned Walthamstow Parents have also found themselves in. And the screen is pretty much floor to ceiling, so it feels verrrry close, especially when you’re a bit long-sighted. However, the kids seemed fine with it – they do glue themselves to the TV regularly – and the showing went off well, without a technical hitch in sight. No loss of sound, no showing “Saw” trailers before a kids’ film, no lack of subtitles on a hard of hearing screening….I’ve gone back to that Bad Place again, haven’t I? Oh, so many painful Warner Village memories.

Then we went to Nandos. Look how excited Eva was ^^. Again, it was a little bit “newly opened” and the staff weren’t quite confident yet so there were some hiccups. Like bringing us crayons for the kids, but nothing for them to draw on. I had to grab the menu off Eva before she turned it into a Jackson Pollock (and no, not in the Red Dwarf sense. I tell you, we were stomach bug free that day) and give them a stack of napkins to draw on instead. The food also took a little while to come, by Nandos standards..but altogether not a bad experience.

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Onto today then, and a trip to St James’ Park. Some friends of ours have just bought a house nearby, which sounds dead impressive until you realise it’s St James’ Park E17, not that one with the herons. Still, it’s a sizeable park, not far from St James Street station. There’s a big open area, an under 3s climbing frame and swings and an aerial runway, which I don’t yet trust Eva on (I held onto her and whizzed her down a few times but she’s not going solo yet). There’s also a little play tunnel, which was a bit wet today but would be grand in the summer for holding secret meetings in and that kinda thing. There are two bigger playframes as well, one with an assault course leading to a slide…and even a little gazebo thing in the middle. Well worth a visit if you’re perusing the market nearby. On the way, we also spotted a yard full of vintage buses, which turned out to be the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. It’s being renovated at the moment, but is due to reopen on 1st March, which is exciting. I shall be reporting back…

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Funz and Gamez – 03/01/15

Image loving filched from sohotheatre.com

Image loving filched from sohotheatre.com

I’ve seen a lot of child friendly theatre recently…In fact it feels like the blog has been nothing but theatre reviews over December…almost as if we’d had a stomach bug between each trip and had spent the intervening days desperately trying to get well again instead of cavorting around London. Well, this particular stomach bug (Roo) cleared up just in time to catch one of the last performances of “Funz and Gamez” at the Soho Theatre. For once I wasn’t going as a reviewer – the tickets were a gift from Roo’s godmother’s brother, obviously – but I’m going to review it anyway. Incidentally, one of the performers was Roo’s godmother’s brother’s friend so we had some prior warning that the show might be a little more anarchic than “Peppa Pig’s Big Splash”. Also incidentally you can buy Roo’s godmother’s brother’s book  here. I know…I’m a giver.

Anyway, the show was a sell out in every way – apparently Phil had a divorce to pay for- and finding seats for the three of us together wasn’t easy. We ended up in the third row, which was lucky although not as close to the end as I would have liked, given Roo’s recently recovered tummy.

(You would not believe what just happened. I’m writing this on the tube home and as I wrote those last four words, Reuben suddenly went pale and whispered “I need the toilet”. I have never moved so fast in my life. FYI the nearest toilet to Seven Sisters station is in Costa on the High Road. We bought a muffin to.justify it)

As I was saying… It was free seating and the front and the ends of rows were particularly popular because they increased your chances of getting chosen for “gamez”. The whole premise was the three performers – Phil, Bonzo the Dog and Jimmy the Elf- staging a surreal game show for kids. A bit like “Shooting Stars” meets “Fun House” on a shoestring budget.

But obviously there was more to it – along the way we had songs, banter and life lessons. It quickly became clear that this was a different kind of child-friendly – the life lessons might take a bit of explaining when you get home (“Don’t ask for a dog when you’re 7…You’ll only lose it during your A Levels”) but it all hinges on the idea that a lot of it will go right over the kids’ heads. And it did.   Roo’s abiding memory is pelting Jimmy the Elf with balls, rather than the sudden passing of creepy Uncle Mick. There were bits where I was in tears laughing but simultaneously shielding my child’s eyes from the utter wrongness onstage. A show that appeals to kids and adults on different levels is hugely difficult to pull off and a gamble that could go horribly wrong. Just like inadvertently causing a small child to go digging around in your jacket pocket.

With that in mind, I’m not sure these guys will ever be allowed to perform a kids’ show ever again…And the run finishes tomorrow so you may have missed your chance. But if they manage to avoid any kind of lawsuit and return to the West End, be sure to check them out. It may be the wrong-est thing ever to bear a 5+ rating but it’s also blooming hilarious. After all, it’s all funz and gamez until someone gets a restraining order…

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CBeebies “Peter Pan” Review

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At last! I’ve been sitting on this review since October and I can finally share my thoughts with the world. I’m sure you’ve been desperate to hear them. It’s CBeebies panto time! Woooo!

This year, the story tackled was “Peter Pan”, starring Ben Faulks aka Mr Bloom as the eponymous Peter. He’s a perfect choice – the cheeky, arrogant eternal boychild. And murmurs across Facebook suggest that mothers everywhere are not averse to the sight of him in tights. Katrina Bryan, or “Nina”, is equally well cast as Wendy – she has a mix of girlish excitement and motherly authority that’s just right. Then Reuben informs me that her brothers, Michael and John, are actually Chris and Pui. I don’t know why he thinks I couldn’t work that out. Anyway, they just seem to be having a whale of a time, despite Chris suffering from flu the day of the recording. What a trooper! Then there’s Kat, on sparkling form as Tinkerbell. She probably has the best singing voice out of all the presenters, so it’s nice that she gets her own song – “Fairies Shouldn’t Ever be Sad”.

When it comes to the pirates, CBeebies has a ready made crew in the shape of the “Swashbuckle” cast, headed up  and hammed up by Andy Day as Captain Hook. The swashbucklers are an easy win with the kids and lend themselves well to a plethora of in-jokes. Andy is both sinister and charismatic as Hook and seems to be enjoying himself a lot. Let’s not discuss the inexplicable appearance of that camp robot. The pirates are responsible for two things – the “tick tock” dance, which Reuben is currently doing all over the lounge, and terrifying Eva. She completely refused to watch the pirate bits yesterday, saying “I don’t like pirates” and “pirates are dary”. Today, on second viewing she’s just playing with her Peppa Pig toys and ignoring the whole thing. I don’t think she’s traumatised. Besides, every panto needs a good panto villain. She’s come back for the “Wendy House” song.

There are a couple of reasons why this year’s panto might be the best one yet. Firstly, because we were there. I may be biased. Secondly, because the visual effects are truly stunning – there are aerial acrobatics, and a liberal sprinkling of fairy dust on the video backdrop. Lastly, the music is really lovely this year, as you’d expect from “ZingZillas” maestro and professional “Friends of Danny Wallace” Banks & Wag. I was humming the tunes for days afterwards and still have some of them stuck in my head.

The downsides? Well, the cast gets bigger every year which means that some of our favourite presenters get reduced to extras  - the radiant Rebecca for one. She deserves a bigger part next year. And I guess we’re lucky to see Sid at all, given that he’s left the CBeebies house, but it would have been nice to see more of him. On the upside, Justin is barely in it. Some might not see that as a bonus, but I definitely do.

Overall, though a really nice show and we were so thrilled to meet Cerrie, Dr Ranj, Rebecca and Mr Liker-Biker backstage. I’ve held off on showing you these blurry photos till now for fear of spoilers but here they are:

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Such fun!

CBeebies “Peter Pan” is available on iPlayer now!

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London Without a Toddler – Potted Sherlock

CREDIT Geraint Lewis

CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Potted Sherlock…what to say? 60 plots, 80 minutes, 1 giant challenge for the “Potted” boys. If you’ve been to one of their shows before, you’ll know what to expect. If you’re a confused tourist, like the man to my left, or a serious Sherlock scholar eagerly awaiting a new take on the Conan Doyle canon, you might not know what to expect. And be warned, you scholarly types may not be the target audience for this show.

Happily, that’s not us. We love the kind of (apologies for using this word) madcap humour and geeky references that define a “Potted” show. With so much material to cover, you’d be forgiven for thinking that there would be little time for hesitation, deviation or repetition. Turns out there was actually little time for the plots  - the countdown on the side ticked through the 60 stories at a breakneck pace, with spoilers being thrown around in a River Song-baiting manner. That took up about 10 of the 80 minutes and the rest was dedicated to pure raucous fun, referencing everything from the Spice Girls to “The Princess Bride”. Occasionally, there was even a reference to The Cumberbatch,  whose performance pales in comparison to the definitive Sherlocks of Jeff, Dan and Lizzy. Or they would be definitive if they could ever agree on who got to be the detective.

Hold on there – who’s Lizzy? Well, you may well ask. The boys have got their very own Carol Cleveland. I seem to remember there being an actual girl towards the end of “Potted Panto” but I was never 100% convinced it wasn’t just Dan in a dress (he makes a very alluring Irene Adler in this production). Now, Lizzy is a permanent part of the team and with it she brings a jaunty walk, pianist skills and a love of Chris de Burgh. A valuable addition.

I don’t want to give too much away, because I, like the painting, am not a fan of spoilers (luckily I wasn’t planning to read the Sherlock series anytime soon). Actually though, there will be a lot that’s different every night as they riff off each other, turning stage mishaps into improv opportunities. I loved the impromptu “Sound of Music” argument although I have to say that the mountains at the end of the film lead to Germany, not Switzerland. A severe misjudgment by Captain Von Trapp, I’ve always thought…

CREDIT Geraint Lewis

CREDIT Geraint Lewis

That’s what makes this show so joyful – the mix of onstage hysteria, brilliant adlibs and the occasional piece of well-rehearsed snappy dialogue (“My sister, frightened, came to me” “Is she still frightened?” “No, she’s dead” “Well, she was right to be frightened”). As ever, there’s a real affection for the source material, although sometimes you feel that they’re missing Harry Potter. Apparently, Jeff is too old to play a schoolboy now…has he never watched “Glee”? They’re all about 40! Sorry, now it’s me that deviating. It must be catching.

Anyway, the script mixes clever gags with incredibly basic ones, in the fine Christmas panto tradition. Reuben is still giggling about the “oui oui” joke from last year.  I think he would have liked this too, but a lot of it would have gone over his head and he might have been a bit scared by the hellhounds, vampires and poisonous snakes that fill Sherlock mysteries. Even if the hellhound was particularly unscary. So we might have taken him, but quite frankly we fancied a theatre trip without the kids. And this is perfect date material – unchallenging, enjoyable and face-achingly entertaining. Don’t see it if you are expecting suspense – some books get dismissed in a line. Do see it if you want the most frantically funny show in the West End. It was so riotous it could not have been more rioty. Oh hang on, forget I said that last bit. Beware the Reichenbach Falls.

In the pub afterwards, we considered what they could possibly “pot” next. My favourite idea was Bond – I’d love to see them recreate epic car chases on a budget (but the invisible car would be easy enough to do). They also have the perfect Bond girl now – someone who’s sexy, feminine and just a little bit dangerous. He could even re-use the Irene Adler costume…

 

Disclaimer: I received free press tickets for “Potted Sherlock” in exchange for the review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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FLASH GIVEAWAY – Winner Announced!!

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Yes, get me…I’m blogging at 8am, mid school-run prep. True only one of us is dressed and one of us is still asleep, but I have a competition winner to announce and that’s more important than having trousers on when I drop Roo off, right?

Without further ado, the winner of the family ticket to “Happily Ever After” is….

Joanne Chu!! Congratulations Joanne, we’ll be e-mailing you shortly with the details. Enjoy the show!

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FLASH GIVEAWAY – Happily Ever After

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Yesterday, Eva and I enjoyed some magical fairytale theatre, courtesy of “Happily Ever After“. Today, you could win tickets to go too! It’s only running till Sunday, so this will only run for 24 hours-  we’ll be announcing the winner on Wednesday morning.  It’s a family ticket and see here for performance details. Ready? Fill in the form below…

 

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Happily Ever After – 15/12/14

 

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It’s been a quiet week on the LWAT front, thanks to a little touch of stomach flu. But I’m all better and we have been adventuring again. Today’s destination – Theatro Technis, for the “Happily Ever After” show, a Christmassy fairytale fest.

I haven’t been to this theatre before – it’s close to Mornington Crescent but for the sake of sticking to the Victoria Line, we just walked up for King’s Cross. In some ways, this was a wise plan because by the time you’ve changed at King’s Cross, you might as well have walked to Camden anyway. Just to get out it involved three lifts and a mid-corridor breakdown when I wouldn’t let Eva pet a guide dog. But we triumphed and emerged at exactly the right exit, to find a swing:

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King’s Cross continues to be full of surprises.

Obviously, there were also ways in which this was not so wise. Like the way the plan meant walking up Pancras Rd, which I’m pretty sure wasn’t designed for pedestrians. We had something of a hairy crossing over a taxi lane and several other lanes of traffic. But then we spotted the very lovely and unexpected Old St Pancras Church:

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See….full of surprises. And then a park full of sculptures which reminded me of niknaks:

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And our eventful walk brought us to the theatre, which doesn’t look much like a theatre from the outside but a sign directs you to the box office and once inside, it’s a charming wee place. It was all decorated for Christmas and elves greeted us as we went in. Eva was a little shy with them and didn’t want to chat but when they started dancing in the foyer she grinned and then joined in. She can’t resist an opportunity to practise being a “balla-ina”.

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There was a little bit of space for buggy parking (I’ve learnt to fold the pink one now, but didn’t have to) but it seemed that most people there were slinging it anyway, with an exciting and unusual variety of slings. I had a sneaky look and at least one seemed to be a wrap conversion mei tai but I couldn’t work out which wrap. The lady wearing it was also breastfeeding so I hope she didn’t think that’s why I was staring…

We moved through to the theatre area and there were seats for the grown-ups and cushions on the floor for the kids. Eva moved between both areas, and occasionally stood up as well but it didn’t seem to be a massive problem. The cushions were level with the stage, so the kids could get really close to the action, which Eva liked but the scarier moments had her scurrying back to my lap!

The basic set up was a group of Santa’s elves who had a magical fairytale book. The plot device North Star made the stories come to life and so we had three plays-within-a-play – “The Elves and the Shoemaker”, “The Girl and the Winter Whirlwind” and “The Snow Queen”. The last one has obviously been popularized of late but it’s a different take on the tale – the Snow Queen is no cuddly Elsa. But we’ll get to that. First off, the “shoes one”, as Eva calls it…

There’s a unifying theme to all the stories and that’s to do with the strength of love and kindness. This first tale is a gentle and uplifting one  - there’s no baddie as such, and it’s about the elves doing something kind for the shoemaker and the shoemaker returning that favour. Eva mainly just liked the shoes – she is a bit of a shoe connoisseur. She also thought the elves were very funny and kept giggling as they rolled through the snow. I loved the shoemaker and his wife – I have no idea how old the actors were but they were very convincing as elderly people (and when you’re so close to the stage, you can see all the make up tricks). Eva also called out “It’s magic!” as the elves made the shoes dance with their glowy fingers. The finger glows were used a lot but they were pretty cool and really effective.

The next story concerned an eternal winter and a plucky girl who goes out into the cold to try and stop it. I’m suddenly seeing where CS Lewis got his inspiration from! Eva found it a “bit dary” but liked the animal puppets that helped Rose out after she fell asleep in the snow (If I remember rightly, the Sadlers’ Wells book reference this story when Veronica is struggling to get to her audition…you see, it permeates all my favourite childhood books). Father Frost’s palace was nicely done, and there was a lovely effect when he invokes the sunshine at the end of the story. There were bits which were on the dark side, but again love triumphed.

All of which set the scene for “The Snow Queen”. It had some similarities to the previous story, not least of which was the reappearance of the frozen palace (but you could hardly expect something different). The undertone was again quite dark, and the Snow Queen actually a little terrifying. I think Eva was on my lap for most of this one. Some people might struggle with the way that the Queen had no chance for redemption but toddlers won’t so don’t worry too much about that. They just want to see Gerde melting people’s hearts with her glowy red fingers. Again, love and kindness beat anger and bitterness…and all in time for the arrival of Santa!

It was a lot of plot to fit into 75 minutes – each tale requires a fresh bit of concentration and a lot of the kids were asking who someone was or what was happening. But that’s standard fare for kids’ shows, unless you have the obvious appeal of a big brand name character. I was wondering how Eva would take this more low-key show after Peppa Pig last week, but I think she enjoyed both in different ways. It was certainly gentler and more intimate than Peppa. There was a wistful kind of magic around the whole production and Eva often squealed with delight.

There were a few blips here and there – the odd line which felt like it was in the wrong order or a minor technical hitch – but generally it was very smoothly done and there was an amazing number of scene and costume changes for a small space and cast. Actually the cast was much bigger than I expected – I thought it would only be four actors like some of the other shows we’ve seen but I think I counted eleven. There were some beautiful costumes and make up effects, especially in the elves’ sparkly eyes, and the cast were lovely and enthusiastic. At the end, the kids were all invited onto the stage to meet the characters and give them a hug. Eva forgot that she was shy, telling Santa that she wanted a George toy for Christmas and hugging the Snow Queen. Then she played with the fake snow and the snowballs:

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The stage invasion at the end really did enhance the show, as all the kids loved interacting with the characters and set. Sadly we only had ten minutes as we had a lunch date with Auntie Claire and her dino friends so I had to drag Eva away a bit. But she had a lovely time and it was a great show. It was wintery, a bit Christmassy and tinged with elven magic. It wasn’t as brash as the last show we went to, but it was certainly charming and a perfect Christmas treat for preschoolers. Just be prepared to hug them a bit in the moments of mild peril…

Disclaimer: I received free press tickets for “Happily Ever After” in exchange for the review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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Q Pootle 5 – Q&A with Nick Butterworth

QP5 Christmas special DVD cover (flat)

At LWAT we’re always thrilled and surprised when someone exciting agrees to talk to us and this time it’s a true legend of preschool literature – Nick Butterworth. Speaking about his CBeebies series “Q Pootle 5“, here’s the exclusive Nick Butterworth/LWAT Q&A:

Thank you so much for talking to London With a Toddler. I tried pumping the 5-year-old for insightful questions but we drew a blank. I assume the answer to “What is Q Pootle 5’s real name?” is “Q Pootle 5”. Anyway, here goes…

 

It sounds like Q Pootle 5 was a long time in the making – how did it feel to finally see your creation onscreen?

It was brilliant – and it still feels great to see it out there. To know that the series has been seen by millions of people is amazing! It took quite a long time to produce, but as things gradually took shape, each stage along the way was very exciting.

You have some brilliant voice talent on the show. Was it a lot of fun recording with them?

Yes it was. Each of the actors brought something of themselves to their characters. It has meant that we have strong characters with subtlety and credibility. The voices were recorded ensemble, and we really got the benefit of some great chemistry between the characters, especially Q Pootle 5 and Oopsy. It also lead to a lot of unscripted fun and games going on in the recording booth. Ed Gaughan, who voices Q Pootle 5, also does stand-up comedy. And Joanna Page, who is Oopsy, has the most infectious giggle in the galaxy!

Who would be on your wish-list for a guest appearance?

I’m tempted to say Peppa Pig! But if we keep it human, probably Peter Kay. Maybe Jo Brand could play Planet Janet . . .

Is “Dave” a reference to “2001: A Space Odyssey?” – I’ve heard that all your friends called Dave think it’s based on them!

I came up with the idea of Planet Dave in 2001 when I was writing the second Q Pootle 5 book, Q Pootle 5 in Space. It wasn’t inspired by the 2001: A Space Odyssey film. It just amused me as the name for a (rather large) friend of Q Pootle 5 and Oopsy who comes to their aid when they’re in a tight spot.

It could be that, subconsciously, I used that name because I have several friends called Dave, so maybe they’re all right to believe they were responsible! In the last few years, the name has become ubiquitous. The ‘Dave’ TV channel (named that in 2007) has maybe had something to do with that.

What’s happening next on Q Pootle 5? How do you top a visit from Santa?

Ah, that would be telling . . !  But whatever Q Pootle 5 and his friends get up to, the same spirit that prevails on Okidoki will be there.

You said in the DVD extras that Okidoki looks a little like California – is that an area

that’s close to your heart?

It was more the terrain and climate that we had in mind, but I do like California. I first went there in 1968 when I travelled 7000 miles around America by Greyhound bus. I have great memories from that time and from several visits since.

Who’s your favourite creation so far?

Oh, you can’t ask that! It almost like asking which of someone’s children is their favourite!

I believe you’re an East Londoner originally. What would be your top tip for toddlers in East London?

Not really. I was born, to Lancashire parents, in North London (Kingsbury) and we moved to Romford when I was two. Since then I have lived in several places, including St Albans, Southampton, Mid Suffolk and North Essex.

Although it has been a long time since I have lived in London there are some fantastic things to do. My top tip for toddlers in East London would be to Visit the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford. It’s a great place for children. There are story sessions, wonderful walk-through installations (the current one is a fantastic celebration of Oliver Jeffers children’s books) as well as dramatic productions bringing books to life in a really inventive way. (Currently they have a production of my first Percy the Park Keeper story, One Snowy Night, which runs until Christmas Eve, I believe!)

Finally, Snapper Productions sounds like a bit of a family firm. How do you find working with your wife and son? How do you separate home life and work life?

Annette and I have been best friends and business partners for . . . ever! For us to work with Ben has been really satisfying. We get on very well – we have individual strengths and areas where our abilities overlap. We listen to each other and expect our opinions and input to be valued. It’s good to work with people you love and respect.

It’s true the line between work and home life can be rather blurred but that doesn’t seem to matter much as we really enjoy what we’re doing. On top of that, we have great friends and plenty of family who are not involved in our business. They’re the perfect antidote to the sort of ‘tunnel vision’ that results from focusing too much on work.

 

Credit: Nick Butterworth is the multi-million selling, award-winning author and illustrator of Q Pootle 5, the Percy The Park Keeper series, TigerAlbert Le Blanc and The Whisperer. Q Pootle 5 Christmas Special: Pootle All The Way will air on CBeebies at 16.45 on Thursday 18 December.

 

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Peppa Pig’s Big Splash

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Peppa Pig – loved by toddlers everywhere and now in the West End to splash you with her own brand of muddy fun. We visited Peppa on Friday, arriving at the Criterion Theatre with an overtired Eva just falling asleep in the buggy and an overtired mother pushing it (I’d been out drinking lemonade and dancing to Boney M till almost eleven the night before….who said my wild days were over?). It was raining and we were early so we’d ducked into St James’ Church on Piccadilly for a few minutes to listen to the end of a free piano recital and shelter from the rain. The latter bit we did very well, the former not so much as we happened to bump into an old Kennington friend and spent a lovely ten minutes gossiping rather than listening. The piano recital sounded lovely though, and they’re on three times a week – you should go.

Obviously such high culture was a good preparation for what was to come, so cheered up I strolled on, willing Eva to stay awake until we reached the theatre. When we got there, she was pretty much asleep but we were told you have to fold all buggies before going in so I had to turf her out into the drizzle. This could have gone badly wrong, but luckily she clocked what was going on (“Oh, dat’s Peppa Pig!) and perked up immediately. Not so luckily, our new buggy completely refused to fold down. I panicked for a minute, devising rapid plans to dump it at my office and come back but I was allowed to take it in unfolded as long as I carried it down the stairs. Not a huge problem given it’s pretty light (and weirdly, the same weight unfolded as it is folded) but when we got to the buggy park, we again were asked to fold it and again I couldn’t. If I’d realised we’d needed to fold I would have taken the old, green one which has an eccentric steer and a bit of a squeak but does definitely fold. They eventually agreed I could leave it as it was, given it took up less space than a travel system would folded, but it was all a bit of a faff. Top tip – if you’re going to see Peppa, take the lightest, foldiest buggy you can!

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Once we were seated though, all was calm and bright. Well, as calm as it can be when you’re in a theatre full of toddlers. Eva was delighted with her ingenious programme/sticker book that kept her entertained while we waited for curtain up and we were handily close to the loos – essential for a potty trainer on the go.

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But very soon the curtain was up and Peppa’s friend Daisy (a human!) was there to explain she was playing hide and seek with some other friends on the brightly coloured set. Danny Dog, Suzy Sheep, George and Pedro Pony all peeked out from behind bushes and castles to squeals of delight from the audience. I was beginning to see what Richard Lewis meant about creating noisy spaces in shows. The excitement built until finally Peppa herself popped out too. Cue much giggling and cheering, from the cast and the kids.

The characters were all puppets, operated by actors in black. While the actors were often quite discreet, using the set to hide behind, they did come out for the songs – I imagine to give the songs the kind of volume and energy you cant get from puppets! Interestingly though, when I asked Eva if there were any humans in it she said “only Daisy” so she can’t have noticed the puppeteers. Handy to know if you’re deeply concerned about your 2-year-old and the fourth wall.

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She does remember a lot about the show though, two days on – she talks constantly about seeing “Peppa at de theatre” and singing “Jingle Bells”. Because, oh yes, there was a Christmassy theme to this. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The main plot concerns a fair to raise money for the school roof which, once again, is leaking. Leaving aside the question of whether Madame Gazelle should sue Mr Bull for his negligence, it’s a pretty classic Peppa kinda storyline.  Peppa and her friends organise the fair and a muddy puddle jumping contest, where Daddy Pig strives to defend his champion status. At 90 mins, including an interval, it’s obviously going to be more padded out than your average episode but it didn’t lose Eva’s attention at any point. She was perfectly happy to watch the friends messing around, playing, singing and throwing a ball to each other without feeling the need to drive the action on.

There were some very creative moments of audience participation – the ball was on a long stick which went out over the stalls, and when George cried, real water sprayed out. There was also a good dollop of the kind of “he’s behind you!” moments you’d expect in this kind of show. It was very engaging for the kids and lots of fun. There were a few very young toddlers there who were a bit restless, but it’s risky taking a 1-year-old to any kind of theatre production. Eva’s 2 and a half now and I’d say it was perfect for her. She’s also a Peppa Pig obsessive, which helps.

And at the end, there was a special Christmas surprise! For the sake of some kind of secrecy I won’t tell you what it was, but it really topped things off in style. And it led nicely into the aforementioned “Jingle Bells” singalong, which Eva counts as her highlight. She was also very excited to meet the characters afterwards, although her face turned to terror any time a camera was nearby. Never work with children and piggies…

So, it was a full-on, full-colour toddler delight – not one for hungover parents (hence sticking to the lemonade the night before) but an absolute joy to watch for 2-year-olds.

Disclaimer: I received free press tickets for “Peppa Pig’s Big Splash” in exchange for the review. All opinions remain honest and my own.

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