Friday, 22 February 2019

Tom Gates Live - Theatre Review Bristol Hippodrome

Animations from the Tom Gates series.
We are very lucky to be able to review the stage shows at the Bristol Hippodrome on a pretty regular basis and, having different aged children, we have seen a wide variety of shows over time. Nothing piqued my curiosity quite like Tom Gates Live on Stage, though. Having read the books to my son many times when he was younger, I couldn't help wondering how Liz Pichon's unique animation style would transfer to the stage. It turned out, however, the author herself was very much involved in the production and stamped her particular style all over it with gusto! This is our review of this brand new show from Birmingham Stage Company. Tickets were gifted in return for our thoughts on this production.

For those of you not in the know, Tom Gates is a brilliant series of books by the very talented Liz Pichon. The books follow the story of young Tom, who is in year 5 and has a talent for animation, which makes the books really fun to read, because they are full of doodles and cartoons illustrating Tom's adventures. The books are really endearing and funny, involving Tom's family and friends, who are an eclectic mix of colourful characters. The illustrations really bring the story to life and I love the way they encourage children to have a go at drawing themselves. The Tom Gates series is ideal for boys or girls from around age 9.

The male cast of Tom Gates Live on Stage, posing in front of a Dog Zombies poster

The show had the audience captivated from the start. There was a very small cast, featuring Matthew Chase in the lead role, supported by Matthew Gordon and Ashley Cousins, who we remembered fondly from his role as Ben in Gangsta Granny. Some of the actors doubled up to play other characters, but were so convincing, I only know this from reading the credits! It's not easy to portray a child when you're really an adult, but it wasn't long before the cast had us convinced and we completely forgot they weren't actually children. Our favourite performance came from Amy Hargreaves, who portrayed Tom's sister Delia and his friend Amy Porter. Not only were the performances astonishingly different, but her portrayal of Delia was spot on and exactly how I imagined she would be. 

Tom Gates smiling and Delia flicking through a magazine under her personal thunder cloud.

The show featured a brand new story, written by the author alongside co-writer Neal Foster specifically for the stage. There were also some familiar themes that delighted Liz Pichon fans, particularly the imaginative use of the animations that are a mainstay of the books and also including some really (like, REALLY!!) catchy songs. I fear it will be a while before I can look at a plate of chips without humming the School Dinner Blues. The upbeat and fun songs served to break up the story and keep the children's attention, meaning that even younger ones could probably make it to the end without wondering off. The plot was also engaging, but uncomplicated, so I felt this would also suit a younger audience. L is 12, nearly 13 and he loved it, so it offers entertainment for a wide range of ages. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the books transferred to the stage and think Birmingham Stage Company did an amazing job. 

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