Theatre Review: The First Hippo on the Moon (Les Petits)
The First Hippo on the Moon, a children picture book written by television personnel and author David Walliams, is adapted into a one-hour children theatre.
Produced by Le Petits, the daughter company of Les Enfants Terrible, which aim is to bring renowned children literature on stage, The First Hippo on the Moon is an engaging piece with good performances, but needs more precise technique in design to make it more engaging.
Written in 2014, Mr Walliams’s 28-page fable about two hippos wanting to be the first hippo on the moon is a bit devilish to me. The plot is adequately simple for a children picture book, but the moral it tells is a bit borderline ambiguous.
The ending of the book actually let an innocent poor hippo named Sheila getting the fame of being the first hippo on the moon, while Hercules Waldorf-Franklin III, a proud rich hippo also wanting to be the first hippo on the moon and succeeded, got left on the moon because of his own mistake.
Sheila on the other hand never mentions the other hippo, and Mr Walliams actually tells the readers not to tell the others as well.
These two hippos do not know each other, and what Mr Walliams does is somewhat brilliant. He plays with human nature about lying and selfishness, and showing the complex situation on whether you think it is not a matter if an innocent person lies. Sheila is a person who dreams big and quite kind and determined, whereas Hercules is arrogant.
How would you feel if Sheila finally takes the credit of being the first hippo on the moon when it is not the truth? Would you hide the truth for Sheila as well even if lying is morally wrong? This is the challenge Mr Walliams wants the children readers to face.
Le Petits actually does a fantastic job in adapting the book into a stage show. There is not a high stake in the book for the story to be engaging on a stage, thus they change the relationship between Sheila and Hercules as long term rivals, and Sheila’s determination to be the first hippo on the moon is actually more on defeating Hercules instead of just dream big.
Even though Sheila still does not reveal that Hercules is the first hippo on the moon like that in the book, Sheila does learn her lesson on being content with her friends, and even though one needs to dream big, be grateful.
Songs are added between scenes, which illustrate more on the relationships between Sheila and other animals who helps her to achieve her dream. With the catchy songs and funny gags, the audience are into the characters, engaging with the friendships, and thus when Sheila being rude to her friends when the monsoon comes, we feel sorry for the situation, we empathise with all these characters. Pathos is successfully used.
Except Sheila, all the characters are played through puppetry, with puppets made according to Tony Ross’s illustrations in the book. Sheila on the other head is played by an actor wearing a character suit of the hippo, also based on Mr Ross’s drawing.
Here is my criticism on the show, is that the puppets and the suit seem made without more refinement, same as the jungle set, as well as the television set showing Hercules’s interviews. The ideas of staging by using these set pieces are on point, but the execution is sometimes sloppy.
Kudos must be given to the 5-actor ensemble, which the cast members are giving their best to perform so many characters, but I can see they are also struggling with scene changes as well as to handle the puppets since those hardware is not actors-friendly. It is hard for me to engage thoroughly without distraction from those executive slips. The actors’s performances however are honest enough for me to still stay inside the story. At least their performances give drive to the plot.
However, once Sheila takes off her rocket, and the scene changes from the jungle into the space, showing the backdrop of the starlit sky wth soaring music, the show wins my heart. That transformation is magical, and you can hear the children making noises showing that they are in awe. Props are made and used in a wonderful way that I thought I really got transported to the other dimension.
All and all, The First Hippo on the Moon is still a very fun show for children with a meaningful and in-depth plot. It is a shame that this show is not promoted enough for more children to come and see (according to my viewing). It does worth a go.
The First Hippo on the Moon at Drama Theatre, HKAPA
An ABA Productions/KidsFest! Hong Kong 2017 Presentation
Through 15th January 2017