Adapted and directed by Richard Lewis
Limelight Productions & Fiery Angel
St Helens Theatre Royal
23/24 February 2019 then touring; Halifax Mar 22/23, Blackpool 30/31, Mcr Opera House Jun 1/2
1 hour 20 minutes including interval
Children's television shows are theatre staples nowadays, with the likes of Peppa Pig, Teletubbies and Octonaughts all having made forays on to the stage in recent years.
Another massively popular television show for pre-schoolers, Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, has also been adapted for theatre – recently launching a massive 2019 tour, with a number of visits to the North West including St Helens (where we watched the show), Blackpool and Manchester.
Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom Live on Stage is produced by Limelight and Fiery Angel – who, as the makers of Peppa Pig and Teletubbies on stage, have an excellent pedigree of adapting popular television shows for theatre.
For the uninitiated, the story tells the tale of the aforementioned Ben (an elf) and Holly (a fairy princess) and their adventures in their magical mini kingdom, with a gang of assorted supporting characters including their Nanny Plum, King Thistle, the Wise Old Elf and Gaston the ladybird (a real crowd-pleaser).
The stage show takes a few popular episodes from TV and draws them into one story, with lots of interaction and songs to help keep little audience members engaged.
As with many of this type of TV-to-stage show, this will probably be the first trip to the theatre for some little ones, so is a fantastic and important opportunity to introduce them to live theatre. As such there’s definitely some responsibility on producers and directors to do justice to the adaptation, hopefully to help little ones get the theatre bug.
Justice is certainly done here. Thanks to director and adapter Richard Lewis’ snappy action, the show flies by, filled with laughter, songs, mishap and mayhem. The show carefully and charmingly recreates the popular programme as a magical live stage experience for small children.
The familiar characters are beautifully realised by Mischabel Wakeman-Road’s bold and colourful costumes, masks and puppets, with Matt Haskin’s primary-colour, painted set bringing to mind a storybook come to life.
The songs work wonderfully, with old favourites like The Music Man and Happy Birthday blending with witty original numbers from Mani Svarvasson and Matt Lewis.
My four-year-old and his friend loved the audience participation element and there’s just enough anarchy to really amuse pre-schoolers (hunting for ‘frog’s burp’ and ‘snail slime’ was a particular favourite, judging by the giggles...).
There is also a charming section in which puppets replace the actors (great work and physical comedy from the eight-strong cast throughout) to create a lovely flying scene. So well worth a trip to the Little Kingdom with your little ones.