I was all ready to give Zog a golden star, but sadly the show didn’t live up to expectations.
Ipswich Regent was all set to welcome the little ones; posters all across the doors, friendly staff waiting to give out Zog stickers on arrival, and a photo area set up for posing with the hero of the hour. My kids (4.5 and 2.5) were super excited and itching to watch the show.
We grabbed our booster seats (such an easy, simple, fix for little ones in a big theatre) and headed to our seats. The curtain was open so excitement built as we spotted animals, puppets’ tails and musical instruments ready and waiting.
The cast of five ran on stage, full of energy, wearing colourful costumes and with puppets too. They introduced the dragons, and a small cheer went up for Zog – we waited for the story to be brought to life.
Taking on a Julia Donaldson story is a risk; everyone loves the stories and knows them so well, but then it should be an easy win because the audience already loves the characters before you begin, and Donaldson’s already worked her magic.
As a family we all felt disappointed that the show had strayed too far from the original story (my 4.5 year old being embarrassingly vocal about this as we left!). And as we refuelled (with half the audience) over a lunchtime happy meal, we chatted to another family who said exactly the same. Obviously they needed to stretch a bedtime story out into a 50 minute theatre show, but much of the original narrative was rushed through in one quick scene, leaving not a lot for the rest of the show.
The show integrated lots of new songs to bring the show to life, and the cast’s use of musical instruments while flinging themselves around a scaffolding tower was definitely impressive. But the songs themselves were too grown up, and left my two getting wriggly and us delving into the snack supplies to keep them still and quiet.
Other additions were really well done; some funny bunnies who regularly popped up and acted silly had my son cackling. A bit of classic panto engagement, and the scene where the dragons all learnt to fly had puppets swooping over the audience, to much excitement. A funny poem was added which used the should-be-winning formula of toilet humour (every four year old boy’s dream), but the punch line went over the heads of most of the audience, making it somewhat pointless.
Another unnecessary change was to make Madam Dragon much meaner than in the book. She didn’t seem to think much of her class, she refused golden stars, and locked Princess Pearl away in a cage.
I understand the need to make a story into a show, but it’s a bit like when Hollywood get hold of your favourite novel – the film rarely lives up to expectations; but then how can they condense hundreds of pages into an hour and a half. This was the opposite – they had the story and plenty of time to tell it – they just took the idea and made their own show. Which for my 4.5 year old just made it wrong, and he was definitely disappointed.
Would I recommend the show – possibly. I think other theatre companies have done other Donaldson stories better – Scamp Theatre and their performance of Stick Man being one. I don’t think the show was suitable for under 3s (despite having to pay for tickets for anyone over 18 months), and even then I’d only take a child who isn’t a control freak (said lovingly – he inherited it from me!) and wouldn’t be upset by only a loose following of the story.
Would I go back to Ipswich Regent – definitely. The theatre was clean, and spacious. The staff were lovely and helped us when we needed it. Booster seats were available which meant there was no fear of the small one’s being swallowed by their flip-up chairs, and they could see over the heads of parents in front.
All in all, we had a lovely morning, but it just could have been so much more.