Sunday, 27 November 2011

Numberjacks Live

Grove Theatre, Dunstable
Saturday 26 November 2011, 2.30pm

Wow, wow, wow, wow was all V kept saying as we took our seats and she saw five small numbers on the stage and the Numberjacks logo on a screen - so to be honest, it doesn't really matter what I think!

The TV series is a playful introduction to numbers for pre-schoolers and won the Royal Television Society Award for Best Pre-school Educational programme two years in a row. This is the first time that the CBeebies favourite has come to the stage in their first live mission - called Saving Brain Gain.

The Numberjacks are ten numbers - 0-9. On TV they are animated superheroes who solve problems for special agents, which are children who phone in to report strange goings on.

These problems are usually caused by any one of five Meanies and the colourful number characters then decide which number will help. That's the general gist of it anyway I think!

I will sum up the plot of the live show in the words of my 21-month-old daughter who has been repeating it since we left the theatre - "Number Taker. Number 4 caught in net. Rescued."

Anyhoo - in short, the number 4 was taken, appropriately enough by the Number Taker, and rescued by the Numberjacks, with the help of the audience.

The rescue involved something called Brain Gain which I think means thinking a lot! Apparently the last bit of Brain Gain left in the world anywhere was in Dunstable - which frankly made my head spin!

Personally, as an adult who doesn't really watch the show much (it usually coincides with 'dad time') I didn't always understand fully what was going on and could pick holes a mile wide in the plot - but it wasn't aimed at me so my judgement of this show comes from the look on V's face which was wonder and excitement and her engagement with it which was total!

To be fair, due to the nature of the TV series it is nigh on impossible to produce a seamless transition to the stage, not without a huge budget anyway!

So, the animated characters appear on a screen while two actors, playing characters called Jamie and Astra, tell the story and really throw themselves into it, keeping the action moving and getting the audience involved at every stage, singing, dancing and shouting. When the numbers do appear they are large padded shapes which don't talk but the young audience didn't seem to mind in the slightest.

However, what makes it a good children's show is that there's loads of audience participation - even for the adults - and when things go wrong, it's up to the children in the audience to solve the problems and put things right.

There are also a lot of pantomime elements such as "he's behind you" and even an ‘oh no it isn’t, oh yes it is’ so plenty of things to keep a boisterous audience busy.

Only two of the Meanies actually appear as characters in this show - Spooky Spoon, who keeps mixing things up and the Number Taker, who is exactly like the TV character and the spoon is a kind of puppet which appears to float thanks to the classic puppeteer in black effect.

The only thing I had been worried about beforehand was the fact that there are 'baddies' in this show and that they might be too scary.

I find the Numbertaker rather sinister myself and Spooky Spoon a bit strange but V is not bothered by them on telly so I hoped she would be OK seeing them in the flesh - so to speak. She was - although she still spoke about them all the time - and didn't stop talking about them afterwards and went to bed still talking about Spooky Spoon.

It's not a lavish production and don't expect to see the TV show completely recreated on stage but it's lively and fun and in my experience, if your child likes the TV series and/or enjoys the interactive elements of going to the theatre, it definitely does the job!

Perfect - Each half was just 30 minutes with a 15 minute interval.

Age range
The show is advertised at 2-5 and I think this is fair although there were older ones there - and younger ones too as V is not yet two and was fine. There were even younger ones there who had come with older siblings and there was nothing in it inappropriate for them.

V is now 21-months-old. She last went to a show three months ago and those few months have made a world of difference to her experience. At previous shows, she has always been enthralled but after about 15/20 minutes wanted to run around as well as watch. She watched this show either from her own seat (she looked so grown up - although I did have to hold the seat flap down with my leg to stop her getting folded up in it!) or from my lap and was totally into it from the word go, pointing, clapping, joining in the actions and, in true toddler style, giving 'mummy' a running commentary on everything that was going on! A job at News24 beckons I think!

Other stuff
I think they missed a trick with having no show merchandise for sale. As usual we were expecting to be fleeced and had budgeted for it. In some ways I'm pleased we weren't but pester power means that the show itself could have raked it in.

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