Bringing Ben & Holly’s Little Kingdom to Norwich for half-term
- Credit: Dan Tsantilis
Makers of Peppa Pig talk about their magical other BAFTA award-winning television animation series as the live stage adaptation comes to Norwich Theatre Royal.
Getting small children to pay attention is a tricky challenge for many worn-out parents – but show them a cute little bundle of fun like the lovable TV character Peppa Pig and they are glued for the duration.
Peppa is now 13-years-old but still as popular as ever with new generations of pre-schoolers and no more so than when the animated television series was translated to the stage – entertaining Norwich audiences on a regular basis.
Now another BAFTA award-winning television animation from the same makers – Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom - has made the leap from the small screen to the stage and is touring venues around the UK, arriving at Norwich Theatre Royal for the half term holidays.
While Peppa 'lives' in the real world, with the porcine characters and other animals wearing clothes, living in houses and driving cars, Ben & Holly is set in a fairytale land and is a story of elves, princesses and childhood innocence.
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Currently a top-rated show for pre-schoolers, Ben & Holly airs on Nick Jr and on 5's Milkshake and the show has picked up numerous accolades including a BAFTA award, British Animation Award and an Emmy Award.
Its producer Phil Davies, and creators Mark Baker and Neville Astley, of Astley Baker Davies, say that every episode is a challenge, but they have been really pleased with the response from viewers.
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'When we finished making the first 52 episodes of Peppa we were at a bit of a loose end,' says Phil. 'Making Peppa had been so much fun, we decided to think about developing a new series. We discussed some broad ideas and then Mark and Nev went away to work up some of the ideas.'
Mark adds: 'Peppa is set in a world that is basically the everyday world that we live in. The stories come from everyday events. We thought it would be interesting to make a series which was set in a magical world but where the stories still start off from everyday events - if that makes sense! Also, having magic as an element was exciting.'
The team took the approach that the fairy magic would almost always go wrong and lead to unexpected results. They were also keen that the show should appeal to both boys and girls.
Explains Nev: 'This is why the series is Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom rather than say Holly's Little Kingdom. We knew this would be a challenge but that's what made it interesting. We try to make an equal number of Elf adventures, I suppose more appealing to boys, and Fairy adventures, which are a natural for girls.'
The show follows Holly, a young Fairy Princess who is still learning how to fly, but whose magic doesn't always go quite according to plan, and is an exciting, enchanting and magical musical adventure packed full of games, songs and laughter.
Her best friend, Ben the Elf, doesn't have wings and he doesn't do magic, but he runs very fast and flies on the back of Gaston the Ladybird. They live in the Little Kingdom, a tiny land where flowers and grass rise high above them.
Family audiences joining Ben & Holly for their live stage adventure will see Gaston the Ladybird cleaning up his messy cave and going on a trip into The Big World with tooth-fairy Nanny Plum, plus a surprise birthday party for King Thistle, and some fun and games with a jelly flood!
The success of Peppa and now Ben & Holly has proved the team have something of a Midas touch – but will they go on creating new series ideas?
'I used to worry about coming up with new ideas and storylines,' says Mark, 'but the interesting thing I've found is that the more stories I write, the more stories I want to write in the future. It's as if the creative process itself leads to more ideas.
Nev adds: 'It's quite tough creating a series out of thin air but great fun when we start to flesh out the characters and work out how they relate to each other. By the time we're writing the second series, we're getting to know what works and introducing new angles and maybe some back story.'
It must be pure escapism working on the series and inhabiting a world of make-believe. 'Working in animation is a fantastic job,' says Mark. 'We have to believe in the worlds we create. We talk about the characters as if they are real people. Most animators are very much children at heart.'
• Ben & Holly's Little Kingdom, Norwich Theatre Royal, May 30, 1pm and 4.30pm/May 31, 10am and 1pm, £15-£7, under-1s free, 01603 630000, www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk