I don't think I could watch Derek Jacobi on stage in the West End. I'd expect him to break into a rousing chorus of, 'Yes, my name is Igglepiggle. Iggle-piggle-wiggle-niggle-diggle!' or finish off each scene with his catchphrase, 'Isn't that a pip?'. Sir Derek may be a veteran English actor with BAFTAs and Emmys, but to millions of parents, he's become little more than the narrator of In the Night Garden.
For those without toddlers, In the Night Garden is this decade's Teletubbies (who have been consigned to the great toybox in the sky). Not so Upsy Daisy, Igglepiggle, the Tombliboos and the Pontipines who are currently the British toy story of the moment and transfix millions of toddlers for 30 minutes every night.
And as well as a prime slot on Cbeebies, they now have their own live show touring the country. However, the first memerising thing about the live show is the price. Tickets range from £12.50 to £17, but then for a seat in the first front four rows, it's another £10. And that's a fixed price for everyone from babies upwards. I didn't think my 21-month old son, Finn, would sit through an hour's show it unless he was close enough to the stage to really engage, so £54 later (my husband refuses to come on the reasonable grounds it would cost nearly £90 for three) plus £5 extra to collect the tickets on the day, we find ourselves in North Greenwich on a sunny Saturday morning.
The show takes place in a cocooned, cosy, inflatable mini dome at the back of O2 with views across to Canary Wharf. It's very family friendly: there's plenty of buggy parking, baby changing and microwaves to warm food. At the entrance there are huge Haahoos, providing very sweet photo opportunities. The seating is unreserved and the parents of well-behaved, patient children start queuing an hour early.
The production by the Night Garden creator and composer Andrew Davenport and Royal Ballet choreographer Will Tuckett, has a simple plot: Makka Pakka washes faces, loses his sponge and then finds it again in Upsy Daisy's megaphone. If I've lost you, it will take too long to explain and so I'm not going to try.
Despite the price, Finn and I are surrounded by children accompanied by their parents and grandparents, which must have set them back the price of a night of a weekend away. Lots of the children are dressed up as their favourite characters. This is definitely an event.
A lot of thought has gone into how to adapt the tv show for the stage, and they've opted to have two versions of the main characters — one full-size and one a small puppet. The puppets are brilliantly controlled by actors who have the facial expressions and movement of accomplished mime artists. The Pinky Ponk and Tittifers are projected onto the roof of the dome; the Ninky Nonk scuttles around the stage; the Pontipines say 'mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi-mi' in their teeny, tiny voices. The pre-schoolers roar, laugh and shriek in appreciation. Finn is mesmerised and coos, claps and smiles up at me in wonder that I have taken him to such a magical place (Finn thinking I'm the best mother in the world? Priceless).
When the end comes, the Tittifers sing their song, the characters dance in the Magical Gazebo and bubbles float down over the audience. There's frenzied applause — then nearly all the children in burst into tears of bitter disappointment. Numerous sit-down protests ensue. Finn expresses his chagrin by enthusiastically kicking part of the set on the way out. We're greeted by staff holding huge bunches of helium Night Garden balloons, which I assume is a thoughtful way of helping the children to swallow a bitter pill — until I realise they are £4. Finn doesn't get one.
Although most nights, I sit bored witless watching The Night Garden and cursing its creators, there's no doubt that it is a classic, quite possibly up there with The Magic Roundabout. For its small fans, the live show is an unmissable experience, and a great introduction to theatre for under fives. Isn't that a pip?
In The Night Garden Live is on until the 4th September at the O2 (there are tickets for most shows) and then continues to Glasgow and Birmingham. For more information visit nightgardenlive.com