With a four year age gap between them there isn’t much my children will watch together without referring to each other’s choices as ‘babyish’ or ‘boring’.
But the appeal of CBeebies’ Something Special (a programme which features the Mr Tumble character) is still enough to make an eight-year-old boy stay tuned in (though he pretends it’s under duress).
When he was a toddler it was the only thing he would watch. Mr Tumble was the first TV character who managed to draw him in; the 15 minute length was just right for those who are easily distracted. And although my daughter has greater access to television on demand, Mr Tumble’s charm still reigns supreme.
So, on a very hot Saturday afternoon, armed with a complimentary Mr Tumble magazine and scratch and sniff cards, we squeezed passed crowds of extremely excited children to take our seats and await the arrival of this superstar on a Manchester stage.
The atmosphere was contagious. Chants of ‘Mister Tumble! Mister Tumble!’ rang throughout the Opera House, something I haven’t witnessed during my many recent child theatre visits. They didn’t have to wait long…
The Tale of Mr Tumble is told through the eyes of another much loved character in the Something Special TV series, Grandad Tumble. It takes us back to when Tumble was a baby and then again as a 10-year-old. As a boy he joins the Emporium of Excellence which is where he becomes the man we know now as Mr Tumble.
Justin Fletcher manages to transfer Mr Tumble from screen to stage effortlessly. The character isn’t as clumsy or even remotely close to the bumbling buffoon we see in the television series, yet he is still the icon who kids adore and that means he could be doing anything up there and they’d still love it.
However, the show doesn’t rely on this inbuilt adoration. Instead, it incorporates some great dancers and singers to give it that large production feeling, some of which I, as an adult, found more mesmerising. On occasion, the dancing also made me forget what I was watching until my eyes caught the clown-like character at the front in bright yellow.
Familiar nursery rhymes, songs we all know, mixed with songs from the television series proved really popular. The interactive element present in the programmes worked even better here, especially as the children copied the sign language and the scratch and sniff cards meant that the audience was given an obvious way to participate.
The cast included Ronni Ancona as Miss Eerie. She played the strict headmistress to a tee. Similarly, with her colourful attire and positive attitude, Samantha Dorrance’s (Disney Channel, Dreamboats and Petticoats) smiley and bubbly character Tootsie was the perfect love interest for Mr Tumble (although they only refer to them as best friends on the show). Connor Elliott was also impressive as the young Mr Tumble or ‘boy’.
As a story it could have come to a more rounded conclusion had Grandad Tumble ended it but as Fletcher plays all the Tumbles himself, this would have been impossible (maybe a bit of pre-recorded video would have helped?).
It’s worth mentioning that Manchester International Festival’s creative learning programme worked with primary schools across Manchester to find and develop the Makaton signing choirs who ended the show. This was an emotional way to end the performance and one which the children on stage and in the audience responded to with great enthusiasm.
The show ran for 90 minutes which, with an interval, was great for us but might be a little long for younger viewers.
Photos by Robert Day
What: The Tale of Mr Tumble (Manchester International Festival)
Where: Opera House, Quay Street, Manchester
When: until July 19, 2015
More info: www.mif.co.uk/event/the-tale-of-mr-tumble