Isn't it time for…
Most Mums and Dads across the land will harbour gleeful love for Cbeebies cult favourite Hey Duggee. The joyously creative series of anarchic animated shorts, following canine scout leader Duggee heading up a diverse band of small animal children at 'the Squirrel Club' and their activity badge earning antics.
No catch phrase laden episode would be complete without the soothing tones of narrator Alexander Armstrong advising “Well done squirrels. You’ve earned your.. Space bay-adge!” or whatever the badge for the last gently surreal seven minutes was.
Chock full of clever visual gags, offbeat humour, pop culture and film references and some gentle educational themes for the nipper, it is a shining light amongst the preschool schedules and streaming. Up yours Peppa Pig. They have a lot of Baftas.
So, when this showed up on the ‘what to do with the kids’ activity radar in stage show guise, lots of eager parents like me thought ‘Oooh that’s a safe bet!’. Though will it do our favourite children’s show justice we wonder?
Director Matthew Xia and writer Vikki Stone have gone down the Avenue Q route for this, with Duggee and the Squirrels as large colourful puppets operated and voiced by human handlers in plain sight. In this stage based episode Duggee and the Squirrels have decided to do their own theatre show and need to earn a bunch of Scout style badges on the way. Conveniently supplied as a handy sheet of stickers for parents to award throughout the show.
This is definitely pitched more at the nippers than the TV show, a friendly and fun homage to the cartoon rather than a fresh round of over-small-heads madness. Revisiting a bunch of popular badges from the series which young wannabee squirrels will recognise, including a joyfully lit space sequence complete with wibbly aliens for ‘the Space badge’.
There are of course plenty of the favourite incidental characters from the show, including Chew Chew the Panda, Mr & Mr Crab, Hennie, Chipo the Dance Crew Cheetah and Mrs Weaver the Beaver, many of whom laid on by the same fast costume swapping actress Lunga Anele-Skosana. A small taste of some of the usual madness in our fave badge review as the Squirrels work towards their theatre show.
Benedict Hastings deftly handles the big Duggee puppet, which he is connected to, while also narrating the Armstrong style narration goodness. Including tantalising references to “Stick” which culminate in a joyous plunge into the Duggee trademark techno madness which is the “Stick” song. The preschool crowd go bonkers.
All in this is jolly good fun for young Duggee fans, worthy of it’s ‘best family show’ gong from the recent Olivier awards. Worth noting it is served up in one sensible length section, so no 'ordeal by interval' like the panto.
Adults may be slightly disappointed that it wasn’t as offbeat as the TV show but then you can watch reruns secretly with a drink when they’ve all gone to bed. My five year old reports he thought the start was a bit slow but really enjoyed the dancing, while proudly showing off his “Theatre Bay-adge”. Time for a Duggee Hug.
Hey Duggee - The Live Theatre Show plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal from 1 May to 6 May 2023.
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