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Tom Gates on stage

Part play, part living cartoon, part gig, Tom Gates live - in Brighton Wed 2 - Sat 5 Oct - stays pleasingly close to Liz Pichon's best-selling books.

How do you bring to the stage well-loved children’s books that are most famous for their illustrations? With some very clever back projection trickery is the answer.

The Tom Gates books by Liz Pichon are all about the doodles, lists and make and do tips. Fans will be pleased to know our hero’s  fantastical patterns and cartoons appear all over the backdrop of this show, as do his lists and band lyrics.

What is really clever however is that they appear live. Tom’s imagination spills over into thought bubbles and scenarios which play out in cartoon form above his head; his permanently scowling teenage sister Delia has a rain cloud follow her across the stage; and when Tom draws on a wall, doodles spring from his hand.

Sometimes characters appear within the cartoons – sitting in a car for instance – and there’s a scene in a biscuit factory that has a whole 3D effect going on.

It’s a new story for this show, just out as the book Best School Trip Ever. With a poster drawing project, a school trip and a family celebration on the horizon Tom should be happy but fate seems to conspire against him. Homework disasters, accidental vandalism and washing machine mishaps leave him in a tricky situation and even adopting a ZZ Top-style disguise beard to evade trouble.

Grown-ups will guess how it’ll all tie up but it’s fun getting there all the same. I was exercising my brain more trying to work out how the cartoon backdrops were working.

The show is directed by Neal Foster, the man behind Horrible Histories and Gangsta Granny on stage, so you know you’re in safe hands. You may also spot Gangsta Granny’s Ben in the cast.

The children are played by adults with plenty of bouncy conviction and there’s some doubling up of parts (which my nephew spotted before I did) which leads to a bit of humour in the finale when everyone’s supposed to be on stage at once.

An extra dimension comes from the mini gigs. My Gates-loving nephew was full of glee when Tom’s band Dog Zombies started knocking out songs he new the lyrics to, like Delia is a Weirdo (which actually has a Kinks-like intro) and The Biscuit Song (apparently noone likes fig rolls) plus there’s a new one or two just for the show.

I’ve ended up seeing this show twice. My youngest nephew (9) is an uber-fan of the books so it was his birthday present at the start of the year and his enthusing led to me taking his older brother (just 12) when it popped up in Sussex again. The youngest loved spotting things he knew from the books, like Delia’s rain cloud and his brother most enjoyed the Dog Zombies songs. I’d say it would work best for children 7 to 10 but there were plenty of younger kids in the audience, laughing, clapping along to the songs and heckling about chips.

So part play, part living cartoon, part gig, this is a fresh twist on a children’s show and brilliantly true to the books.

I warn you though, Delia is a Weirdo is an ear worm! Oh and for the record – I like fig rolls!

Tom Gates is at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, Wed 2 – Sat 5 Oct. Tickets are from £19.50.

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