The scribblings of David Walliams are fast becoming a new generation’s Roald Dahl, and what follows a successful children’s novel? Adaptation. Currently the second Walliams books adapted for the stage after Gangsta Granny, The First Hippo on the Moon tells of a race between two hippos to blast off from Earth in a bid to beat the other.
Intended for a younger audience than other works, First Hippo has a much simpler storyline and less of the heartfelt themes found in other stories such as Gangsta Granny. It teaches children of around three and up the values of teamwork, friendship and humility. While it can seem forced and not the most tidily conducted lesson, it must be remembered that is for a younger audience. Our hippo Sheila, performed wonderfully by Alice Bounce, is childlike, bouncy but just a tad ungrateful to her friends.
Creatively, First Hippo accelerates away from the Earth. The puppetry involved is spot on not just in performance but also in design and sculpting. Characters Scratch, Sniff and Derek are brought to life by their performers, invading the crowd in the hunt for rocket fuel. On the other hand, Keith the Giraffe (though well-acted) is simply comprised of the giraffe’s head and when brought onto centre stage, just seems a little out of place. Set-piece transitions are conducted quickly and whilst not the cleanest of moves, they still keep in touch with the show as trees fold away to reveal new areas of the jungle.
There’s an over-reliance on toilet humour, but again the younger audience will love it. With a host of side characters who are more likeable than our protagonist and a conclusion hastily fixed, the lesson is there for First Hippo, but it isn’t the strongest and what’s more, it’s stretched over an hour. Regardless, the production is vivid, energetic and will keep youngsters (and a few parents) happily entertained for an afternoon.