When Rohan discovered that ‘Peppa Pig’s Best Day Ever’ would be on in London’s West End over Christmas, the next steps were inevitable. Texts were exchanged, parental approval received, tickets bought and our grandson River was invited to his first trip to the theatre. A Peppa Pig doll is one of River’s favourite toys. He also owns George Pig, her brother, and umpteen Pig accessories.Moreover, like any reasonable toddler, River, who is not yet two, watches videos of Peppa Pig when he can and if he is in a ‘Peppa-Pig’ mood, chooses one of their books for his ‘good-night’ story .
Such an outing was bound to happen. When I was small, our Christmas treat meant a visit to the circus. For our children it was a trip to the theatre to watch Hiawatha or Peter Pan, or to throw teddies in the air at a ‘Teddy Bear Concert’. Now it was River’s turn and, privately, I was anxious.
Five of us would be going to the show; in addition to River and me, there would be his dad Joshua, and his two grannies Rohan (Nana) and Urs (Omie). I was sure that Joshua, Rohan and Urs would enjoy the afternoon whatever happened; for them, watching River’s reactions would be precious and dominate all else. I felt differently. With its two 30-minute halves and its 15-minute interval, I was worried that River would be bored or frightened and prefer to play in the aisle or even want to leave early. For my part, I could see the play as being embarrassingly amateur and mostly incomprehensible. I also assumed that identification with either the characters or the story would be beyond me.
With regards to my fears – how wrong could I have been? First to River; he was captivated throughout. There was a story teller – Peppa’s friend Daisy, who introduced us to Peppa, George, their Mummy and Daddy, and some of their close friends. It was also Daisy who asked us to sing-along to various songs and to accompany the words with actions. River stared wide-eyed at the stage throughout. For most of the show he sat on his Nana’s knee. For a few minutes however, when a giant green dragon appeared, he sought the security of Joshua’s knees; then it was back to the comfort of Nana.
While Daisy and her piggy friends held forth he said nothing and that continued as he watched with wonderment silvery snowflakes fall down on us from the ceiling. But, when the show was over, he repeated two words again and again – “Big dragon” – clearly the dragon had made its mark!
His first show had been a success. At no point did he ask to play in the aisles or to leave for home, but nor did any of the other children in the audience – there must have been over two hundred aged between 19 months and five years in the theatre and all stayed put.
As for my experience, it was a revelation. For whatever reason and much to my surprise, I joined in the singing, did the hand movements, shouted out my name with everyone else as requested and, probably like River, never quite understood what was going on. But it didn’t seem to matter. Perhaps I joined in for River’s sake, perhaps it reflected my dotage. However, I suspect there was something else afoot. For an hour or so I was willingly drawn back into my own childhood when messages were simple and unambiguous, when instructions were followed without question, and when decisions were uncomplicated and responsibility not a burden. How easy those days were!
But as I watched there was something else that made me think – how could children, many of whom were only just learning to speak, be beguiled for a hour by a set of giant, rather ugly, puppet pigs. Successful writers, painters and composers know how to communicate. Often they get help from interpreters – actors for plays and musicians for compositions -, and by their immense skill they manage to get into our minds and influence how we feel and think. That is exactly what Peppa Pig’s creators did that afternoon; they ingeniously conjured up something that children found captivating. Moreover, they do the same for children worldwide. How did those creators know what to do? As someone who tries to communicate, albeit to adults and through the written word, that question still puzzles me.
My afternoon at the theatre with my grandson River was well worthwhile. It was warming to see him so absorbed and responsive. But I too made discoveries as I gained new insights into communication and watched myself revert momentarily to my toddler days and re-live the pleasures of childhood. That all this could happen while we were both beguiled by pigs is a testament to make believe.
For helping me write this blog, I would like to thank River, Joshua, Ali, Rohan and Vivien.
The illustration shows pictures of Peppa Pig in various guises.