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It's the Pinky Ponk...At Brent Cross

It's hard to imagine that any child under 3 or so in the UK has not at some time watched the enchanting In the Night Garden and become attached to one of the unusual characters who live in this magical world. It's a challenge to imagine how this can be effectively translated to a live stage show, but the producers of In the Night Garden Live certainly pulled it off.

The location itself is super child friendly. Inside a bubble like dome- which could be straight from In the Night Garden, the auditorium is reasonably small and arranged in steps so there's plenty of room to spread out and for small children to wander. As usual at these sort of events it is almost impossible to avoid buying  one of those strange fluoresecent whirling toys- a whole auditorium full of them- we know it and expect it but still wonder if it's really necessary!

The story of the performance which we saw (and there is an alternative story too) is based around Makka Pacca looking for friends in the garden to wash their faces, and then losing his sponge which is found by Upsy Daisy.  The story gently pulls you along, allowing the audience to interact with all their favourite characters as they appear one by one (and in almost pantomime fashion a little cheer goes up each time the next one arrives.) Each character performs its signature song or refrain for everyone to join in with. The children love Makka Pacca whenever he appears, especially the bubbles which are released when he washes the faces of his friend and fill the auditorium at the end. The audience interaction is quite limited- but probably enough given the age of the children.

The staging is extremely clever- the characters move between puppets and life size characters to capture the different sizes of the characters.  So little Makka Pacca is a puppet when he is next to Igglepiggle washing his face, but when he's on his own he's life size. Even the Pontipines manage to move round the set with clever puppetry. This technique also puts some perspective into the piece- so you see the puppet Igglepiggle in his little boat in a way sea- but when he presents himself on the stage he is full size.

The setting of the garden is also imaginatively represented through a projection of the garden in the background, which moves as the scenes change. But even more cleverly, the whole area around the stage is filled with projections throughout the show, from the stars at the beginning (a 100 parents' hands pointing these out to the kids) and the blooming flowers, to the chorus of birds and extended garden scenes. It's easy to get carried away in the magical world when it feels like it is all around you. And all the trademark elements of the show are captured- from the little boat on the sea at the beginning to the story at the carousel in the end with the Haahoos bobbing in the background.  The story itself might be a bit slow, but the familiar refrains and the fantastic staging really draw the piece together and makes it a fabulous hour of entertainment. We would highly recommend!

In the Night Garden Live is showing at Brent Cross until 24 September.

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