Family fun saving Bob the Blob

octonauts

Octonauts and the deep sea volcano adventure

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton

****

ONE thing about having a three year old grandson – he’s four next month he tells anyone who asks, or doesn’t ask for that matter – you get to know what is on TV for little ones.

In my day it was Muffin the Mule, a puppet before you ask, Sooty and Andy Pandy – which I hated – all in black and white, for my children we had the likes of Postman Pat and Danger Mouse and now it is the likes of Peppa Pig - and don’t parents and grandchildren just love those muddy puddles games -  Ben and Holly and Octonauts.

I think it is safe to say that no other children’s theatre production includes a siphonophore or indeed a blob fish among the cast but then again not all theatre for tots is Octonauts.

For the uninitiated the BBC TV series, based on the books by North American pair Vicki Wong and Michael C. Murphy, is a sort of cross between Thunderbirds and a trip on Jacques Cousteau’s Calypso as our intrepid adventurers respond to emergencies to rescue and save all manner of sea creatures.

They are led by Captain Barnacles (Ben Thornton), who just happens to be a Polar Bear, Lt Kwazii (Paul Lawrence-Thomas) a cat, who sounds a bit like a feline Joe Pasquale, Peso (Michael Lapham) the penguin medic, Dr Shellington (Luke Lennox) the sea otter, Tweak (Janette McManus) the rabbit and Dashi (Angela Nessi) the dachshund along with puppets Prof Inkling the octopus and Tunip the ship’s cook who is a vegimal, half animal and half turnip, not so much genetic engineering as a gene pool pic’n’mix.

Oh and there is some strange creature called a human, Luke, an Octo Cadet played by Luke Lennox again.

Other parts are played by puppeteers Elain Hartley and Ben Owen.

The cast had the audience involved from the opening moments, encouraging panto style responses in a fast paced adventure which gave us a splendidly techno Octopod bridge with flashing lights and raising and lowering video screens all in front of a huge video wall.

The wall could be showing scenes ofoctonuts the midnight zone of the sea, deep sea, fish in the shallows or the view of a remote island and even the deep sea volcano.

Scene changes were slick and we even had a deep sea ballet of sea creatures as the Octonauts set out both to rescue creatures threatened by the volcano and to find a blob fish – yes there really is such a thing – called Bob who had been separated from his brothers Bob and  . . . Bob. At least the parents of these Black Country blob fish, presumably also called Bob and Bob, would never forget any of their names, and no doubt Bob’s their uncle (couldn’t resist that one!).

Captain Barnacles (Ben Thornton), centre, Lt Kwazii (Paul Lawrence-Thomas) the cat and Peso (Michael Lapham) the penguin

The ballet, black stage and black light, was quite mesmerizing as we saw fish and creatures rushing to safety and then a quite lovely dance by 5our jellyfish and a swirling display by a distant relative of the jellyfish, the siphonophore, which can grow up to 50 metres in length.

As a show it has plenty of colour, audience participation - the children even had to shout to get the power back up on the ship – lively songs and plenty of action, moving along at a good pace – remember young children can lose interest between the start and end of a dull sentence. It is entertaining and, although kids probably don't relaise it, educational in a fun way.

It also has an environmental message, that all creatures have a place and a purpose, without preaching or trying to hammer home its point.

These are just a bunch of friendly animals with human traits roaming the oceans trying to save and rescue their fellow creatures – make of that what you will kids.

Children’s TV has seen a number of series transferred to stage with varying degrees of success and this first stage tour by the Octonauts is one of the best I have seen so far. Costumes and set are good, story is strong and simple enough to follow, it is lively and fun, even adults seemed to enjoy it, how can you resist a show starring a siphonophore*. (see below)

Incidentally we all know that the switch of kids’ TV series to the boards is a means of expanding the franchise but there is a fundamental benefit way beyond the accountant’s pursuit of profit. This is about survival of the theatre.

The kids holding their flashing Octonauts LED propellers, or clutching Octonauts foil balloons as they head off home are the next generation of theatregoers. As I have said many times before, childrens’ theatre is vitally important. It might be a long way from Octonauts to Othello but the likes of Captain Barnacle is where the journey starts.

If youngsters see theatre as a magical place, a world of wonder capturing minds and shaping emotions then they, or at least some of them, might be hooked for life. Without good childrens’ theatre though there is so much else waiting to capture their attention and interest and they are likely be lost to the vacuous world of social media, downloads and video games.

Octonauts and its like, pantos and shows for older children are the missionaries for the future of the theatre. Fail and the future could be very bleak indeed.

The Octonauts sail back into the Midlands at the Lichfield Garrick 1-2 July

Roger Clarke

16-04-15

 

*Siphonophorea are relatives of the jellyfish and their best known species is the Portuguese man’o’war. One species, Praya dubia, can grow to 50 metres long, 160 feet.

For a fascinating video of a strange deep sea siphonophorea shot by exploration vessel Nautilus, click here.

http://www.nautiluslive.org/video/2014/06/27/stunning-siphonophore-sighting

The Nautilus is the vessel of Dr Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the Titanic and the site has other fascinating deep sea videos as well as life feeds. 

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