It’s easy to forget just how astute children can be. I remember a conversation with my niece, then aged four, about a toy lawnmower. “Ah,” I said. “I see you have a machine to help Daddy mow the garden.” Without missing a beat, she replied, “It’s only a toy, Aunty Helen. It’s not real.”
So I suppose it should have come as no surprise when, as we walked back to the car park after seeing The First Hippo on the Moon at Salford’s Lowry, I asked my now five-year-old niece, Scout, about her favourite part of the show.
“I liked the bit when they worked as a team and built the rocket.”
This goes some way to demonstrate why I will never make my fortune as a children’s author. I mean, these guys really know how kids think. For me, it was Roald Dahl and his unerring ability to tap into a child’s psyche, his unmatched talent at writing for and about kids. Today, one of the leading lights of children’s literature is David Walliams, he of Little Britain and fearless feats for charity. As author of countless books, all of which sell in their droves, Walliams is the undisputed king of the genre.
This dramatised version of Walliams’ First Hippo on the Moon is the first stage adaptation of one of his picture books. It tells the story of a hippo called Sheila whose lifelong ambition is to, oh, you’ve guessed it, be the first hippo on the moon. And just as Walliams can peer into children’s minds and give them what they want, so too can Les Petits Theatre Company. Think about it. Kids may be able to understand the most salient of things but their attention spans are notoriously short. So it takes some doing to keep an audience of little people engaged for 65 minutes, with minimal toilet breaks.
The production values of this show are mind-blowingly good, not least the quality of the puppets and the sets (I’d quite happily adopt Derek the Ostrich – well done to puppeteer Rosie Nicholls – and I’d also consider giving a home to Keith the Giraffe and his handler Owen Jenkins). Also, the songs go down well with the young audience, apart from some ill-judged slow numbers which, although great tunes, lose the kids’ attention.
With an extended section about the benefits of poo which elicits guffaws from an appreciative crowd (as well as some blue for the dads in the form of jokes about Donald Trump) and exceptional puppetry, Les Petits keeps young minds entertained and engaged. My only criticism would be the pace of the play: children don’t respond well to changes in tempo. Just as it seemed the actors had all the little ones on the edge of their seats, they occasionally switched to a slower pace and lost their audience.
Nevertheless, as kids’ shows go, this is up there with the best of them. Neither author nor company underestimate the intelligence of their audience – and therefore reap the rewards.
The First Hippo on the Moon is touring. For more information, click here.