From the team behind
A solid and safe show, albeit one lacking an edge or a sense of risk.
The story follows Sheila the Hippo, who is desperate to be the first Hippo on the Moon. Despite lacking the resources of her hippo rival, she recruits her friends in the jungle to build a wooden rocket for her and then help her power it through poo. It’s a simple yet effective storyline, filled with all the necessary moral messages about friendship and so forth. One box ticked.
In some ways, it’s as if an entire Edinburgh Fringe Children’s Show checklist has been ticked off. Silly musical numbers? Check. Lots of references to poo? Check. Beautiful puppetry? Check. None of these are necessarily bad; in fact, they’re all done rather well and the performers must be credited for being able to maintain the energy and enthusiasm necessary to sell it. However, parents who have watched enough children’s show at the Fringe would be forgiven for thinking they might have seen this show before.
For a show designed for a younger audience, there are perhaps a tad too many jokes and references aimed at adults. How many of these are carried over from the source material isn’t clear, but a particularly unsubtle Donald Trump reference feels as unwelcome and unnecessary as the man himself. Whilst most children paid attention to the show, several were fidgety throughout, not quite connecting with everything going on onstage.
There are also a few issues with staging, with a lot of porcupine puppet action happening on the floor below most people’s eye line. Sitting in the middle of the second row and being several heads taller than their target audience should have prevented any visibility issues for me, but even I had trouble seeing things from time-to-time.
Most of the puppets however were more than large enough and were utterly fantastic. Particularly impressive was the ostrich puppet, but all the puppets were clearly made with great skill and craftsmanship. In fact, puppetry was the strongest element of the play overall. News segments and a race through space were skilfully presented with a slick combination of lights and sound as the puppets appeared to increase in size due to well-choreographed handovers of gradually larger puppets between the actors.
It’s perhaps time to mention the anthropomorphic hippo suit worn by the protagonist throughout the show, which looks like it came straight out of a 90s TV show. This would be fine in itself, but it has a mechanism where the mouth of the costume moves as the actor speaks. However, this is very rarely in time with any actual speech and thus is incredibly distracting (and slightly disturbing) to watch. They would have been better just keeping the mouth static. This would have allowed us to instead to focus on the actor’s eyes, which were cleverly visible through the costume and allowed a great expression of emotion.
Ultimately, David Walliams' The First Hippo on the Moon is a solid and safe show, albeit one lacking an edge or a sense of risk. For a Children’s Show, that’s not necessarily a bad thing; parents often crave that guarantee of safety. But for children who have already seen several Fringe shows of the same type, this might not be anything new.