I must confess that it took me a while to get into the children’s cartoon Hey Duggee. So scrambled was my brain when fatherhood began that I would often stare at it slack-jawed as the multilayered writing and smart gags flew over my head. This musical theater version, co-adapted by director Matthew Xia and Vikki Stone, is no different. It bombards your senses from the off with fluorescent colours, high-pitched voices and vibrant songs. I half worry that my fellow critics – Romy, 6, and Teddy, 3 – might spot my bewildered expression and have to shout “keep up Dad!”.
On entering the theater we are handed sheets of stickers with various badges to “earn” as the show progresses (only two sheets, though, for a family of four – what are the kids going to do?).
There’s an A Capella Badge, a Costume Badge and, umm, an Egg Badge which all ultimately lead to the squirrels (not actually squirrels but other young animals that attend Duggee’s nursery classes – I told you it was confusing!) earning their Theater Badge. Along the way we get loud music, fashion parades and a breakdancing competition, which brings out some slinky moves from the large Duggee puppet expertly commandeered by Benedict Hastings. Most impressive is the Space Badge section, in which a rocket ship navigates an asteroid belt and gigantic balloon planets are allowed to bounce around the audience (warning: failing to touch said balloons may induce a three-minute sulk in your child).
Romy was especially impressed with the Step By Step song and the dancing for the Choreography Badge, although she said it was frustrating that Hennie the Ostrich kept dropping her eggs on stage when she was supposed to be picking them up (I resist the temptation to say “that was the joke, you wally”). The mid-performance strop about not touching the bouncing planet is silently dropped from her review.
As for Teddy, he responds to all of my Hey Duggee questions by grinning and saying “I’m not going to tell you”, which frankly shows a complete lack of regard for the unethical strings I’ve had to pull to get my son a gig reviewing theater for the Guardian. Eventually he decides his favorite bit was the “blue and brown elephants”, which isn’t ideal considering we saw those on the bus ride home. Still, he gives it a well-considered four stars out of five. Romy, on the other hand, asks: “Why can’t I give it seven stars?” And sure, why not, let’s burn down our longstanding critical yardsticks for Hey Duggee: The Live Theater Show.
Perhaps the truest measure of the show’s appeal is the fact that both kids spend the show dancing, singing and screaming at the various characters. And that when the lights go up there are various badges stuck to their jumpers, chairs and faces. Awoof! Well done squirrels, you’ve earned your Critic Badges!