The popular award winning animated TV show for very small people about very small people, Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, has come to the stage for the first time on a countrywide tour.
Ben and Holly are best pals and live in the Little Kingdom. Holly is a fairy princess, whose Dad is the kindly King Thistle. As a young fairy she is still an apprentice in the magic arts. Ben is an elf that, like his fellow elves, is good at making everything but can’t make magic. Holly flies on her fairy wings but though Ben has none, he flies on the back of everyone’s pet, Gaston the Ladybird, a kind of dog equivalent in the Little Kingdom.
The voice over introduction reminds the audience that they are about to see the Little Kingdom ‘where everyone is very, very small’. But of course the production is an adaptation of the TV screen animation writ very, very large and performed, at least in part, by grown- ups so perspectives have to be adapted and disbelief suitably suspended!
The programmes takes the form of several set pieces involving various capers like playing hide and seek, magically tidying Gaston's smelly abode, finding a cure with Nanny Plum for King Thistle’s cold and letting a girl called Lucy visit the Little Kingdom. These scenes are punctuated by singalong songs and hand gestures. Some of the theatrical tricks employed in these scenes, like when Holly became invisible, when the jelly spell went wrong and when the ‘giant’ girl was in bed and wakened to the Tooth Fairy (aka Nanny Plum for) were quite effective.
The costumes and masks looked pretty much like the well- known drawn characters brought to life and Holly’s fluttering wings were impressive and the pantomime style fun of smells and burping frogs was well targeted.
Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom is a quality British television programme that has been beautifully animated. It is full of charm and innocent fun that is not afraid to hint at the scatological and nasty stuff in a way that weans love but this show merely basks in the ready -made good will of the TV programme. As a stand- alone piece of children’s theatre it is disappointing.
Overall, it is more about controlled merchandising than about a quality theatrical experience for a new generation of potential theatre goers. The story is about magic but magic is just what was missing.