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Hey Duggee: The Live Theatre Show at the Southbank Centre and tour – review

The seminal TV series is transported to the stage

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Sarah Palmer, Kaidyn Niall Hinds, Vinnie Monachello, Clarke Joseph-Edwards, Jane Crawshaw, Benedict Hastings and Lunga Anele-Skosana
© James Watkins

"Isn't it time for…" As with most parents of preschoolers, these words have become synonymous with a giant dog and his team of 'squirrels', who meet at the clubhouse to earn badges in CBeebies' strange and strangely addictive series.

The task of transposing Hey Duggee to the stage is no easy one, considering it hinges on Monty Python-esque absurdism, whereby the squirrels (in actual fact a disparate group of different species) encounter a range of hallucinogenic scenarios. They could be on a submarine with jazz fish one episode, or making carrot cake for some hippy rabbits the next.

The fast-changing nature of the programme is hard to capture live, but Matthew Xia and Vikki Stone's adaptation does a good job of referencing some of the series' highlights (including the legendary stick song – more of that in a moment), while providing a multi-badge narrative to knit it all together.

It opens with narrator Benedict Hastings walking calmy on stage with a ukulele, before introducing the squirrels in his best Alexander Armstrong-esque voice alongside Duggee, a life-size puppet he manoeuvres and voices himself. It's an impressive one-man-band performance. The squirrels – Norrie, Roly, Tag, Betty and Happy – are keen to earn their theatre badges, so must learn how to put on a show.

Lunga Anele-Skosana pops up in a variety of cameos, including Chew Chew, a panda with a voice like Adele (speaking rather than singing), as well as Mrs Weaver the beaver, Chipo the leopard, and many other besides. The squirrels meantime earn their badges in a capella singing, choreography, costume-making and, erm, eggs and space, and it all culminates in a sort of preschool rave as we sing-a-long to the aforementioned ‘Stick song' (which only features the word stick, to a trance rhythm) like we're at Ministry of Sound.

If it all sounds like a fever dream it's because that's exactly what it is. But in amongst the madness there are some highly skilled performances, which are more than a match for their on-screen counterparts. Jane Crawshaw, Kaidyn Niall Hinds, Clarke Joseph-Edwards, Vinnie Monachello and Sarah Palmer spare no energy in bringing the lively squirrels to life in Avenue Q-style (kudos to puppet designers Yvonne stone and Daisy Beattie). All are given their moment in the spotlight, and the fine acoustics in the Festival Hall, enhanced by some well balanced sound design by Rob Bettle, ensure no lines are lost.

Xia's dynamic production is given a suitably bright design by Jackie Trousdale, which features a large screen at the back with projections (by George Reeve) to augment the Squirrels' journey, whether on earth or outer-space. It all feels very joined-up, which is impressive considering the fragmented nature of the Duggee universe.

When stage adaptations of children's TV favourites are ten-a-penny, it takes something special to stand out from the crowd. Hey Duggee Live delivers, not least because it feels like it has come from a place of genuine love for the original. It's a fitting homage to the magnificence of its source material – a big, heartfelt Duggee hug. Me and my three year-old both had a ball, and the look on his face when I stuck on his theatre badge afterwards was the cherry on the cake.

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