Monkeying Around with Baby Panda Theatre

Delve into the enchanting world of Five Little Christmas Monkeys, the new family show crafted in collaboration with early years specialists. Discover how the creators infused a curiosity about counting with playful humour and music to make learning a delightful adventure for young minds.

In this exclusive interview with Baby Panda Theatre, you’ll uncover the secrets behind the show’s innovative approach and learn how it’s making mathematics not just educational but also a joyous experience for children.

Why did you decide to blend Christmas with the classic “Five Little Monkeys” rhyme?

The inspiration for the show was trying to get our own daughter to bed!

We were constantly outwitted by her and came up with using the naughty monkeys jumping on the bed to reflect a challenge many parents will be familiar with. By setting the show on Christmas Eve, we gave Little Monkey, the star of the show, even more reason to be too excited to go to sleep.

We’re a big fan of puppetry! What inspired you to use this artform?

We have a long history of using puppetry to tell stories. Andrea has performed in dozens of shows at Little Angel Theatre, the home of British puppetry, and I (David Duffy) was the Head of Production there for a decade. Between us, we have explored every type of puppetry from marionettes to shadow puppetry.

Puppets are brilliant for including animals, aliens, and all sorts of other things that an actor would struggle to be able to portray. They are fantastic for playing about with scale and time. They also allow us to make a one-person show like this with a wide range of characters. We are all puppeteers as children, using dolls and toys to make up stories. I think that’s why audiences find them so believable and appealing.

The show encourages us to learn about maths and counting. Could you share some top tips?

When we wrote the show, we spoke to an early years numeracy expert and got some great tips. Through music, song, and repetition, the audience discover all about counting from 1 to 5 without ever realising there is learning going on. They’re too busy joining in, shouting out and usually dancing along!

It’s easy to be put off maths because of all the rules, but there’s so much creativity in it too. Music, comedy, puppetry—it all relies on rhythms. There were so many parallels we discovered as we started researching the show.

How do you use music to engage with younger audiences?

Children love music, and dancing, and singing. Giving each monkey its own distinct music style helps the audience to see each number as being very distinct and unique.

We are big fans of not dumbing down theatre for young audiences, so the music genres cover everything from classical ballet to rap! We work with an incredible musician, Rex Horan, a conservatoire-trained double bass player from Australia. Over the years, he has learned to compose really quickly in just about every style under the sun.

We were fascinated about how different numbers seem to have their own characters and personalities: lonely number one, lucky number seven—half the numbers out there are odd! It was a good way of showing the different characters throughout the show.

And finally, how does this show capture the spirit of the season?

It is set on Christmas Eve, one of the most exciting nights of the whole year. Many children will be familiar with the growing sense of anticipation about what might happen that night. The thought of going to bed is almost impossible. The show has a Christmas tree, presents, and even a magic show! It is teeming with festive fun.

Five Little Christmas Monkeys runs from 16–20 December. To book tickets, click here.

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