Reboots, revivals, adaptations. Oh, that there is such treacherous territory. To succeed you need to find the essence of what made the original so great in the first place and then add something new and yet fitting to the equation. It’s a hell of a job and the more beloved the original was, the further you have to fall should you fail.
The Sagas of Noggin the Nog, the children’s television show about the adventures of ancient Norsefolk first created by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin of Smallfilms at the end of the 1950s, is beloved. It’s full of gentle, distinctive charm and this new stage version by Third Party Productions would have to be pretty good indeed to measure up. Thankfully, it pulls it off with aplomb. It’s a treat which stays true to the spirit of the TV version and brings a whole lot more to the table.
Today at Sale Waterside the packed auditorium is buzzing with the nugget that Frank Skinner mentioned the production on his radio show, saying that he saw it one day after seeing Hamilton but much preferred it. Skinner might not be primarily known as a theatre critic but he’s spot-on about Noggin the Nog. It’s a deliciously entertaining family theatre show, a little hymn to the joys of storytelling performed with much skill and enthusiasm by a fine, nimble cast of just four.
From the off, the show understands that Noggin isn’t really about brave, tough Norse warriors at all. It’s actually thoroughly English, steeped in cups of tea, hot buttered toast, old-school innocence, feeble excuses and fumbled apologies. John Wright’s production gets this tone exactly right and interpolates elements direct from the TV original such as Smallfilms’ drawings projected as backdrops and Vernon Elliott’s lugubrious theme tune played live on a harmonium.
The two separate tales told here – of Noggin finding a bride and of him meeting an ice dragon – are established Smallfilms classics too. But the show has plenty of resourceful new tricks of its own, with the cast interacting with the audience, bringing in the odd song and using all manner of puppets to conjure up the stories on stage. That pesky Nogbad the Bad was always crying out to be a boo-hiss panto-style villain, too. All told it’s beautifully judged in terms of how faithful it stays to the source and how freely it flies. It’s as likely to enrapture a small Noggin newbie as it is to delight a firm Firmin fan (Northern Soul came to see it with two youngsters, both of whom declared without hesitation that this was a “10 out of 10” job).
The Sagas of Noggin the Nog is children’s theatre at its best, delivering a generous portion of entertainment and uproarious fun. Rather like an ice dragon, it’s a curious and delightful beast, and here’s hoping that Third Party go on to tackle further sagas – or maybe even Smallfilms’ Ivor the Engine – in the very near future. For the time being, find a child and find a way to take them to this. It’s a little treasure.
For details of other family-friendly events at Sale Waterside, including film screenings, John Hegley, Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake and the Sarah & Duck stage show, visit watersidearts.org/families