Noddy in Toyland

Children and I are polar opposites. On one side sits me, a brusque, captious cynic, and on the other, tumbling and laughing, are the children: irrepressible, optimistic, inexhaustible balls of vociferous energy. Therefore, somewhat predictably, it was with a weary sigh that I crossed the threshold of the Opera House in Manchester to review Noddy on Tour, Premier Stage Productions’ sixtieth anniversary tribute to Enid Blyton’s cherished character. I must admit that I had been expecting a half-baked show with wobbly cardboard sets, an insipid script and some truly ghastly performances, sprinkled with a healthy dose of jerky movement, if any at all. That is, after all, what happens with touring shows that only appear in one venue for a day or two. With little time to acclimatise to the space and hone the performance it is an inevitable occurrence. Then I remembered that this show was a children’s show and therefore aimed at 3 – 7 year olds, not me. It didn’t matter, the show was practically flawless and the performances themselves were meritorious. A deliciously energetic Sly (Paul Winterford) and his slightly dim-witted partner in crime Gobbo (Steve King), who from my vantage point bore an eerie resemblance to Rick Astley, proved to be superb villains and their nefarious scheme to spoil the fun of Noddy et al at their party certainly ensured that they had made enemies of the 120+ audience. Winterford and King took full advantage of their lack of restrictive costumes to bound around the stage, helping to keep the sprightly pace of the performance and on several occasions raised raucous peals of laughter, particularly in the memorable scene in which Sly sits on a lit stove and comes off slightly worse for wear. For their part, those actors trapped inside Noddy, Big Ears, Tessy Bear, Whizz and Mr Plod tried valiantly to have even a scintilla of movement and, impressively, managed it. Where character movement stalled a little was in the musical numbers. They tried their best, but the actors could not get beyond a few simple arm movements and the lifting of a leg. Understandable, of course, and yet one cannot help but feel that with a little work they could achieve some fluidity. Still, this is the jaded eye of a critic and not that of a 3-year-old boy gazing admiringly at his heroes. Having said that, the show’s songs do have some very nice messages. Noddy and Big Ears sing about their friendship and how they will “always be best friends” in a sincere ballad that even had the usher by the door swaying in time. When not singing, the dialogue was refreshingly crisp and the script rattled along very nicely, leaving even those of us with ulterior motives with little on which to train our sights. Scene changes were conducted seamlessly, even if the opening to the music that accompanied them sounded creepily like the opening bars of Je t’aime... moi non plus. Now that certainly would have added an interesting dimension. The plot itself was the quintessential harmless good vs. bad scuffle: Tessy Bear (Justine Sim) has invited the Toytown denizens to a party that afternoon to sing, dance and generally make merry. All are welcome, with the exception of the local knaves menttioned above, a pair of mischievous goblins named Sly and Gobbo, whose raison d’etre is to spoil all fun in Toyland. They catch wind of Tessy’s gathering and determine to find out what it is and stop it. Having failed to steal an invitation from Whizz (Lauren Thundow), they get their grubby hands on Mr Beetle’s and all is revealed. Sly, the more intelligent of the two goblins, first hits upon the scheme of stealing the karaoke machine that is to be used but when they are interrupted by Mr Plod (Rebecca Howard) they quickly flee and a new plan is called for. Sly therefore orders some sort of sound-stealing machine from the local goblin wholesalers (the equivalent of Wile E. Coyote’s Acme, and just as comical) and sets about stealing the voices of Toytown’s inhabitants so that they can’t sing and thus can’t have fun. Blackguards. They succeed in taking Bumpy Dog’s bark and Noddy (Jo Azzopardi), in a flash of brilliance, comes up with the plan of fooling the goblins into thinking they’ve all lost their voices. Flushed with their success, Sly and Gobbo slope off, leaving their mysterious voice vacuum and the “mute” party-goers to wallow in despair. Of course, this is not the case and after the goblins have left Noddy, Big Ears, Tessy Bear and Whizz break into song. Good fun is had by all and the goblins, dismayed that their scheme has been foiled, return. Noddy immediately steals their voices to teach them a lesson and will only return them on the condition that Sly and Gobbo join the party and let their hair down. The performance ends with a rousing sing-a-long of jaunty children’s songs in which the audience is encouraged to take to its feet. I remained firmly bivouacked in my seat but many others didn’t, leaving me looking like I was attending a most unconventional wake. One criticism I can muster is that, with a smattering of wry humour aside – such as the scene in which Gobbo presents himself with congratulatory flowers - there is little in this show for adults to enjoy, as you might find in other children’s shows. Still, it’s not designed for us and the abundance of beaming faces from the shorter members of the audience did vindicate the performance. “Sing a song, sing along with me!”? Pass the microphone.

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The Blurb

Noddy and his friends have been entertaining children for generations and now he’s back in a brand new 60th anniversary live theatre tour starting in July 2009 and visiting theatres across the country through to 2010. See tour list below

Its party time and Noddy, Tessie Bear and Bumpy Dog are planning a fantastic sing-a-long, dance-a-long party…but wait… those two naughty Goblins, Sly and Gobbo, are out to spoil the fun!

The show features all the favourite Toy Town characters in 90 minutes of fantastic Noddy fun, and is an enchanting introduction to live theatre for 3 – 7 year olds.

Noddy is the most famous creation of children's author, Enid Blyton The first book, Little Noddy Goes to Toyland, was published in 1949. It was an immediate success and twenty-three more books followed. The books have since sold 200million copies in 40 languages, making Blyton the sixth most translated author in the world, just behind William Shakespeare.

The television show based on the character was the longest running show in British television since 1955. To celebrate his 60th birthday, Noddy is celebrating with a new TV series on Channel 5

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