Dora the Explorer is about as ubiquitous as pre-school TV shows can get. She adorns rucksacks, t-shirts and lunchboxes around the world and children love the intensely high-pitched television show. But of course, it's ok to let your child watch it as it contains memory exercises and Spanish vocabulary. Who doesn't want a bilingual child?
Part of the fun for parents when watching stage adaptations like these is finding out how the show will overcome obstacles presented by the medium transition. On television, Dora is helped along by a point-and-click cursor, which could have presented a fun challenge to Lifelike Touring in their adaptation. Sadly it was overlooked, which was a shame and could be considered a bit of a cop out, considering how much of a stylistic tool it is in the television show. However, her chirpy backpack and map are presented in giant moving model form to give children a taste of the "magic of theatre", along with some other treats along the way.
Cursors aside, the focus of the production is being as similar to the cartoon as possible. There are too many fans to upset to take artistic licence and of course, Dora the Explorer isn't the sort of cartoon swathed in subtlety. Cue huge foam suits bounding about the stage to high-energy music.
Those familiar with Dora's adventures will not be in strange territory. Dora and friends find their toys are missing so have to travel to the City of Lost Toys to get them back. With the help of her trusty map and backpack they set off on their quest. With puzzles along the way there's plenty for children to get involved in. Dora's cousin, Diego, makes an appearance, providing a bit of change, and his animal puppet friends (albeit rather cheaply done) are always a winner with young ones.
The inclusion of the mandatory overcoming-trouble song, "We'll Find A Way", was livened up slightly by the odd timing of getting the children to join Dora and Boots in taking deep breaths to keep calm - whilst atmospheric stage smoke was billowing out into the audience. As the heroes sailed across the lake there was plenty of fun to be had thwarting the pesky fox, Swiper, by blowing his boat off course. By the end of the show it's hard not to join in with his catchphrase, "Aww, maaaaan!"
Is there anything wrong with a paint-by-numbers production for children of this age group? After all, paint by numbers is more than just a phrase; it's a pre-school staple. Toddlers and pre-schoolers have such a narrow view of their world that giving them what they expect proves most successful - we're not in boundary-pushing territory here.
What do they need? Colours, adventure, action, dancing and songs. This is exactly what Dora Live produces, and in spades. The cast work very hard to keep moving throughout their 'lines' (it's all a pre-recorded track), and the dancing keeps the fun and energy up all the time.
It was hard not to get swept along by the colourful adventure. That my excessively energetic 19-month-old companion was rapt from start to finish says more than this whole review can. The kids love it - and their enthusiasm is very infectious.
- by Duncan Barton