I must admit I was a bit nervous about this…my Macca-Pacca-obsessed toddler performed an abrupt about-turn sometime in March and decided she no longer liked “Night Garden” and would only watch “Sarah and Duck”. When I say “sometime in March”, I mean the day before we moved house. She was keen to remove our only secret weapon (25min episodes on DVD) and instead demand hundreds of 5-minute episodes on our soon-to-disappear iPlayer. So I was a bit worried that she might not enjoy “In the Night Garden Live” and might get bored, along with her brother who dismissed the show as “baby stuff”.
I didn’t need to worry. As soon as we reached the end of Entertainment Avenue at the O2, she got very excited at the sight of the giant haa-hoos:
“Yook! Haa-hoos!” she cried out, which was echoed by lots of other small voices all through the O2. Even babies who seemed too young to speak managed a kind of “aa-oo” when they saw these giant balloon-y friends just outside the showdome:
Meanwhile, Nathan was more excited about the wall of Marshall amps:
Incidentally, if you’re wondering how to find this bit of the O2 you may find – as we did – that there aren’t any signs at the main entrance. Don’t worry – turn right and pretty soon you’ll spot this fella:
Who will guide you towards the showdome, along with his gardeny friends. Also, if you’re wondering, there are both toilets and buggy parking facilities inside the dome. Because these are important considerations when going anywhere with small kids.
So, let’s skip forward a bit and we’re seated right at the back (Reuben’s choice, but a good one given that it’s the only bit with back support. Eeee….I’m getting old). The stage is set, the dome is full of overexcited 2-year-olds and a disembodied Derek Jacobi issues frequent warnings that the show is about to start, all in character. I liked “Oh dear, somebody’s not in their seat. Who’s not in their seat?” and “5 minutes to go. Come on Upsy Daisy, finish your song”. It set the scene nicely and both kids were pretty excited.
There was no flash photography allowed, so the photos are a little dark..although with an arena full of toddlers with glowy things, you’d think a camera flash would be the least of the cast’s worries.
Then…it began! The children cheered as they spotted Iggle Piggle peeping onto the stage and then it all went dark for the usual introduction….”The night is black, And the stars are bright, And the sea is dark and deep…” and at this point, I have a shameful confession to make. I may have shed a little tear. It’s that bit where Iggle Piggle lies down to sleep and finds himself in a kind of paradise..I’ve always found it a bit poignant. Luckily I’m not the only person to have made such a logical leap. And my sister for one will always cry at reunions so it’s really not just me, is it?
Phew, OK. Glad we’ve got that out of the way. Night Garden never stays poignant for very long – before you know it, it’s full of brightly coloured characters stumbling around doing funny things. The live show is no different. Each character was introduced in turn and had their own little segment – Iggle Piggle did his song, and encouraged the children to join in. I was most suprised when Roo jumped up and started doing the dance like it hadn’t been three years since he’d done it. Then it was Macca Pacca’s turn, then Upsy Daisy, then then the Pontipines and finally the Tombliboos. Throughout it all, the characters interacted, went on the ninky-nonk together and formed some kind of loose storyline around Iggle Piggle losing his blanket (I would say he’s particularly careless, but I’m forever retrieving Eva’s lost dollies from pavements and other places…) As you’d expect from Night Garden, the plot cohesion isn’t the main draw – it’s all about the reassuring familiarity of the toddlers’ favourite characters, all hugging and dancing and working together to find the blanket. As shows go, it was a very comforting experience. It’s much like the TV show – something about it makes you feel nostalgic for your own childhood, even though it was made in 2007. It’s the music and the BBC-accent narration that could both have come straight out of the 1970s. In a good way.
But to get back to the live show – it was very well done. The stage management was slick and impressive. ITNG can’t be the easiest show to stage – the characters change size depending on the perspective and who they’re standing next to. They got around this by having a team of green-clad stage hands who operated puppets alongside full-size versions of the characters. So, Macca Pacca appeared first as an adult-size person, but then switched to a puppet when walking past Iggle Piggle (and they really nailed his walk as well). The bigger characters also turn up as puppets when they need to walk over bridges etc. It’s all very well done and the stage hands are pretty unobtrusive, allowing you to just focus on what the characters are doing.
Amazingly, Eva did focus most of the way through. She sat still, watching and occasionally commenting “Is Upsy Daisy!” or “Yook, birds!”. Roo got a bit lethargic halfway through – I don’t think the plot had enough dinosaurs in it for him. But a 5-year-old boy is so not the target audience for this show – he was just tagging along. What’s weirder is that Nathan and I both got a little sleepy too. It was warm and dark in there but I think it’s more to do with the strong bedtime associations ITNG has for all of us. It seemed bizarre to get outside and realise it was only lunchtime. The finale was, as you’d expect, all the characters dancing together by the carousel and Roo leapt up to do the dance too, just as he always did in front of the telly as a toddler. Awww, that took us back. He said he enjoyed it and Eva did too – it was certainly a little bit magical and she was enthralled by it. There was a chance to meet the characters afterwards, but there were long queues and so we skipped that and went back outside to the freshish air of the O2 arena. I hoped Eva would sleep after all those characters telling her it was time to go to bed but no…she wanted a run around instead. Look how tiny she seems compared to the O2:
On the way out, we stopped at the Innovation Station, some kind of free Nissan-sponsored exhibition with lots of buttons to press. Reuben enjoyed driving a racing car on a PS3:
Though he sadly seems to have inherited the family driving skills (fast but inaccurate). He also liked designing his own car on a touchscreen, doing the Nissan quiz and recording a short video clip for the video wall:
..which I’m pretty sure they won’t use because it was just him talking about dinosaurs. There were also games to play, a photo booth and real cars to climb inside.
Eva liked having her photo taken, but she wasn’t so sure about the rest. It seemed entirely devoid of Tombliboos and so didn’t live up to her expectations of the day.
But it was pretty fun, and a good way to spend 45 minutes or so if you’re ever hanging around the O2. You can even try beating my stunning record on the reaction-time tester (30 in 60 seconds….I never said co-ordination was my strong point).
In the Night Garden Live is on at the O2 until 14th June and then it moves to Richmond. Book here! And yes, in case you were wondering she has started watching the DVDs again since we saw it live…