I was surrounded by crying pre-schoolers as I left the theatre this afternoon, and it left me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Not because I am evil, but because I had witnessed a rare and wonderful thing: toddlers sitting happily for over an hour in front of something that wasn't a screen. Result! The downside was that they were all terribly upset when it was time to go home.
Before I was a parent I scoffed at all things Peppa. With her hideous pink merchandise littering the aisles of every supermarket, toyshop and even clothing store, I couldn't see why anyone would buy into it. Now that I have a toddler, I know why they do. If you allow Peppa Pig into your life, you will be rewarded with little moments of calm. Moments in which your child will ask nothing of you and sit smiling to themselves watching something you can be fairly sure won't be too dodgy. That being said, questions have been raised about Peppa Pig's dark feminist undertones – Daddy Pig is a buffoon whereas all other females are sharp, resourceful and practical – but considering the current Trump-infestation, I'm all for dark feminist undertones. Of course, none of us wants to park our kids in front of the iPad or TV all day (apart from, well, you know…those days) but popping on a few episodes of Peppa while you tend to life's necessities is a great alternative to going mad.
So, I was curious to see how a live show might fair with my little one. Would she be as enthralled (by which, of course, I mean 'tamed') by the stage version as the TV? How on earth would they convey the characters, with their distinctive voices and pig-shaped selves? Would there be singing? Would Mr Potato Head be making an appearance? Would this be the beginning or the end of my daughter's love affair with the theatre?
Interestingly, the star of the show is a character who never appears on our TV screens: a 'girl' named Daisy (played by the enviably effervescent Emma Grace Arends). She is the bridge between audience and animals, part narrator part playmate, and the only cast member who isn't a puppeteer. The smaller animal characters are portrayed by puppets, with their puppeteers also acting along in role, doing the voices, singing and dancing. The larger characters – Daddy Pig, Mummy Pig, Mr Potato Head and Red Monkey (bear with me) – are played in full costume though with 'puppet elements' (if that is a thing – 'elements of puppet' sounds like a fragrance, but I can't think of how else to describe it). It sounds complicated, and it is, but the effect is mesmerising. With a colourful set (very much the scenery you see in the cartoon), fantastic props (a huge bubble bath, the famous red car, the legendary bunk beds), a fast-moving simple plot and oodles of songs, most everyone was entertained, and then some, for the whole show. This is quite an accomplishment. I couldn't think of anything more difficult, complicated and exhausting than entertaining hundreds of tots for over an hour, let alone the anxious parents like me who were desperate, desperate, to see if the actress playing Peppa Pig would get her voice right. She did - it was perfectly nasal, with a hint of Australian Question Intonation.
In short, Peppa Pig's surprise was a huge hit with my kid. And if she's happy, I'm happy. Momentarily at least.