In The Night Garden is probably the only lullaby-filled children’s TV programme that has almost cause a parental riot.
Why? Because when CBeebies once moved the tots’ favourite – featuring the adventures of Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka and friends – from its bedtime slot to an earlier one, it prompted parent petitions, outrage, and a swift U-turn from the BBC
Because when CBeebies once moved the tots’ favourite – featuring the adventures of Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy, Makka Pakka and friends – from its bedtime slot to an earlier one, it prompted parent petitions, outrage, and a swift U-turn from the BBC.
Igglepiggle and co returned to their popular evening slot, and they’ve remained there ever since.
In the Night Garden is the Bafta award-winning series that’s been one of the Beeb’s most-watched shows for a whopping 12 years. Only 100 episodes were ever made - so toddlers and their parents will be elated that, following 2010’s sell-out live touring show, In the Night Garden Live is coming to Portsmouth with a brand-new show and a new story to tell.
But it’s the puppets on stage who are the stars of this show. While the average grown-up might watch In the Night Garden and see a strange plot of cuddly characters apparently speaking gobbledegook to a soporific backdrop, it’s all carefully-tailored linguistics to captivate pre-schoolers.
Andrew Davenport, the show’s creator, explains: ‘The characters speak almost entirely in play language, which is hugely important to language development.
‘Children recognise the nursery rhyme silliness of it, they love the funny language and characters, and the attention to detail that’s within them, and they love the whole fantasy of the Night Garden world - but I think, at the end of it, that it’s the comedy that draws them in.’
It might be all about having fun, but the makers of In the Night Garden Live took the responsibility of putting on what will be a lot of the audience’s first trip to a theatre very seriously. As Oliver Seadon, the show’s producer says: ‘It’s such a heart-meltingly brilliant thing to hear the hysteria when Igglepiggle first appears on stage in front of his little fans – there’s a sort of glow of happiness throughout the theatre. In their minds he exists – he’s real – and they’re all so excited to see him.
‘Making shows for two-year-olds is brilliant – they’re so vocal when you get it right –and when you get it wrong. My favourite ever clip that one parent shared on social media after seeing In the Night Garden Live had her two year old repeating over and over “Mummy, it’s amazing. Wow, it’s amazing. It’s amazing.” I think she says it around 15 times. As a theatre producer you can’t really wish for a better review than that.’
To guarantee that reaction with the latest show, the producers called in world-renowned theatrical experts, which is written by Bing Live writer Helen Eastman, with the puppets’ costumes designed by Tahra Zafar. A costumier, puppet and animatronics expert whose career spans the blockbuster Harry Potter and Star Wars films, Zafar even worked with the Queen on her first (and only) acting role, as she was head of costumes at the 2012 London Olympics and Elizabeth II starred in the Opening Ceremony.
Yet ask her which character she’s most proud of working on in her three-decade-long career, and the answer isn’t Hermione or Obi Wan-Kenobi – it’s Upsy Daisy.
The always-happy dolly with red, pink and yellow hair who Zafar helped create for the original In the Night Garden TV show is, she explains, ‘just smashing. She’s a girl character who avoids the usual stereotypes – she isn’t overly bossy, or stuffed with props.’
Working on Upsy Daisy was Zafar’s first job after maternity leave with her now 14-year-old – ‘so the character is a bit like my other daughter,’ she laughs. The designer is passionate about the importance of children’s theatre under the shadow of cuts to the arts in schools.
‘Straitened budgets and a 1950s-style emphasis only on reading, writing and arithmetic means that creativity is being sucked out of schools,’ she believes.
‘So it’s more important for us on In the Night Garden Live, and in children’s arts in general, to make sure we do our jobs really well. We have a responsibility to get everything to right to fill that gap. Children’s theatre is about being together, taking in a shared experience, escaping everyday worries, being taken somewhere different.’
That somewhere different is Igglepiggle’s Busy Day, as In the Night Garden Live tells the tale of Igglepiggle’s search for his friends, following their funny sounds until he finds them all.
Fans will spot all of their favourites. Zafar has spent months working on the design of the characters ‘because, to the children in our audience, In the Night Garden’s characters are like friends that they know really well: they have to look exactly as they do on their screens at home.’
And the show’s writer, Eastman says her biggest challenge was ‘creat[ing] something which will feel completely familiar to our young audience, who know the world of Night Garden and its characters intimately, but is also fresh and exciting. All our favourite characters feature in the story, as do the rituals of the Night Garden.’
Will Tuckett, the Royal Ballet stalwart, Olivier award-winner, directs the show, adds: ‘Its style is perennial – a make-believe world, all about how friends operate, how small children play, how they learn about texture, communication – it’s very relaxing to watch.
‘Parents might initially think it all looks a bit weird – but kids absolutely love it, and parents love watching their kids love something.’
IN THE NIGHT GARDEN
The Kings Theatre, Southsea