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Review: First Hippo To The Moon

With David Walliams’s beautifully bonkers First Hippo To The Moon bursting into three Berkshire theatres over the next couple of months, I thought you might like to get the Muddy lowdown from Sussex editor Debbie, who was lucky enough to have the fancy pants Eastbourne premiere on her patch.

Like a good poo joke? Bet you know a child who does.

I went along to the opening performance and there were poo jokes – not to mention gross sound effects – aplenty.

It’s the story of two hippos – one who’s rich and arrogant since he found fame in a city zoo, and another, jungle-based, hippo whose dream he stole – the dream of getting to the moon.

A space race ensues with the jungle hippo’s more homespun efforts to build a rocket (“It’s minus 129 up there and you haven’t even got a jumper!”) involving various animal friends and a huge pile of dried poo for fuel. The ending has been slightly changed from the book so our grumpy heroine is less duplicitious than in the original and learns her own lesson of sorts.

The show is presented by Les Petits Theatre Company. Lead hippo Sheila is a costume character whose ample bum is the, er, butt of several jokes. Her friends – a giraffe called Keith, a female ostrich called Derek (actually more likeable than our lead and skillfully played) and a pair of porcupines called Scratch and Sniff – are puppets (just a long neck in Keith’s case). They’re operated, as is the norm these days, by on stage puppeteers and the set is a simple one, mainly involving moveable palm trees.

Photo by The Other Richard

There are a few quite catchy songs, one of which I found myself humming as I walked out of the theatre. I particularly enjoyed a musical sequence with a wise but narcoleptic ape who dispenses crucial information, between snoozes, and has a touch of Star Wars’ Yoda about him.

The poo jokes are plentiful (Walliam’s knows what makes kids tick) and the puppets break into the audience at one comic point which I won’t spoil. As with panto, there are a few jokes pitched towards the grown-ups.

First Hippo has been adapted from a picture book and is aimed at younger children than Walliams’ other works and the recent stage show of Gangsta Granny. I’d say three to six-years-old is about right and the audience for the opening performance included reception classes who were giggling from the outset. It’s only an hour long, so a good introduction to theatre for those with shorter attention spans.

Photo by The Other Richard

You hear Walliam’s voice off stage at one point and, in fact, at the opening performance I attended he made a surprise appearance on stage at the end (more to the excitement of the adults – though a few of the youngsters recognised him from Britain’s Got Talent). His verdict? “Well, it’s better than the book! If you’ve enjoyed it tell your friends, if you haven’t, tell your enemies to come.”

Photo by David Parry/PA Wire

First Hippo on the Moon is South Hill Park Bracknell, Sun 26 Feb; The Hexagon Reading, Wed 29 Mar; and The Corn Exchange Newbury, Sun 23 Apr-Mon 24 Apr.

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