night at rep

Igglepiggle, the Tombliboos and Upsy Daisy

In The Night Garden Live

Birmingham Rep


This is a delightful piece of engaging theatre for its target audience, pre-school children, who left you in no doubt about their favourite characters – and their favourite bits, with The Pinky Ponk taking the honours in that department.

For those not familiar with the night garden The Pinky Ponk is a sort of psychedelic airship of the sort that Terry Gilliam might have drawn for Monty Python, and when it appeared, huge and floating, and then proceeded to fly around the audience, excited, wide-eyed children were managing almost Excorcist level turns of the head to follow its radio controlled flight. Even adults were impressed.

All the usual characters were there either as puppets or in large scale form played by actors in costumes that probably double as saunas in heatwave summers, with Victoria Jane donning not just one but two fat suits as both Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka while Vinnie Monachello was encased in a furry Igglepiggle suit.

The Tombliboos pop up, manipulated by puppeteer’s Paula Brett, Christopher Dobson and Glyn Williams who also deal with all ten of The Pontipines and we also get that strange train affair, The Ninky Nonk chugging around as well as rock collecting, face washing Makka Pakka’s trolley, the Og Pog. If you have never seen the show, I am not making these names up . . . honest.


The Pinky Ponk flying high above the Rep audience

The show, just under an hour, keeps pretty well to the formulae of the TV series – a case of if it ain’t broke . . .

We start with a human asleeep then a character waking up, and a little adventure, in this case Igglepiggle following a sound, which sounded a lot like the opening to EastEnders, and along the way meets all his friends.

The sound incidentally – spoiler alert, except anyone who can read probably won’t care – comes from the Tombliboos practicing drumming, and it all ends with a bedtime story, a brief recap of what had happened with the snoozing Igglepiggle drifting off in his boat.

My eldest grandson, who is eight, used to watch the programme and was there as an assistant reviewer – after 40 or so theatre visists he has some idea of what to look for – while my youngest, just four, still watches, but is these days is progressing to Ninjago and Pokeman, the result of an older brother.


Makka Pakka

They both enjoyed it, my eldest thinking it was well done and pitched just about right for younger children, while my youngest, another with quite a few shows under his belt, was happy to see the characters he knew from TV on stage with the flying Pinky Ponk his highlight.

There is an inherent difficulty in producing shows for young children; they have a tendency to lose interest quickly once the novelty of a favourite character appearing has worn off, but director Will Tuckett and writer Helen Eastman have countered that by keeping scenes short so that before tots lose interest completely another character appears, or a new scene starts such as IgglePiggle suddenly discovering musical stepping stones.

There is no audience participation as such but the children are involved and engaged throughout and it was a pleasure to see so many children dancing to songs and music. There was genuine enthusiasm, bordering on hero worship in a few of cases, at the end.

Samuel Wyer’s setting is bright, big and colourful while Tahra Zafar has done a good job with costumes, particularly, strangely, the puppeteers dressed all in green with green bowler hats, which all seemed a bit surreal, almost convincing you there were not real.

Nina Dunn was responsible for a video design projected on mid stage curtains, a rear wall and high on a proscenium inlay, which introduced other characters, such as the birds, The Tittifers and The HaaHoos, animating scene changes and providing constant interest.

Childrens' productions are desperately important. Done well they plant a seed in a child’s mind that a theatre is a place of wonder, the stage a magical world where dreams and ideas come to life – a seed that could grow into a lifelong love affair with theatre. The next generation of audiences.

Done badly and theatres become a dark place, losing out to TV, video screens, social media and whatever else comes along. A generation lost.

In The Night Garden is a lovely piece of theatre with enough magic to make children want to see more – and that is a start. To 04-08-19.

Roger Clarke


Index page Rep Reviews A-Z Reviews by Theatre