IT is one of the most popular children’s books ever published – and now Julia Donaldson’s story of trainee dragon Zog has been turned into a family-friendly stage show at Britain’s most magnificent castle just in time for the half-term holidays.
Zog Live! (yes, it does what it says on the tin) opened at Warwick Castle today, offering half an hour of fun for the young and young-at-heart. What’s more, in these tough times of belt tightening, the show – specially scripted by the author herself – is included in the castle admission ticket.
Played out on a set bearing artist Axel Scheffler’s original designs from the best-selling book, it’s bright, colourful and pitched perfectly for the kids. And although the suggested age group is up to ten years old, there’s enough humour to hold the attention of older children for a while, too.
On the evidence of the first performance this morning – helped by the sun’s decision to come out from hiding behind 11am clouds – mums and dads will enjoy it too. There’s one laugh out loud moment amidst the mirth (no spoilers here) that particularly pleased the crowd.
Seating is on surprisingly comfortable bean bags in the colours of the three principal dragons, although there are picnic tables available at the back, too, which may come in handy if you visit the pop-up coffee, soft drinks and doughnuts bar by the side of the stage.
The show runs four times a day. Get there early if you want to grab a front row spot. You’ll not only be close to the action but perfectly positioned for some surprise changes in the weather courtesy of the special effects team. Again, no spoilers, but there were squeals of delight aplenty this morning.
The production uses live actors, puppets, smoke and lights to tell the tale of Zog’s five years at dragon school, learning to fly, how to roar, how to breathe flames, capture princesses and fight. The humans caught up in the action are Pearl – a young girl with a secret – and brave knight Sir Gadabout.
The costumes are great, and Pearl gets to change outfits pretty much every time she sets foot onstage; it’s well acted for its target audience and it’s good to see the whole thing served up in sign language and subtitles on a screen to ensure accessibility.
Zog Live!, which runs until September 30, is the latest addition to Warwick Castle’s attractions themed on Donaldson’s books, with an impressively equipped Zog Playland adventure play area – complete with castle battlements, zip line, slides, ropes and tunnels – and Quest for the Golden Star activity trail.
I visited with my wife, daughter, son-in-law and the grandkids, and there was plenty to keep all three generations occupied for most of the day, with The Falconer’s Quest bird of prey show a unanimous highlight, now a full blown production rather than a routine fly past.
Sea Eagles, a Barn Owl, Eagle Owl, Harris’s Hawks, an Andean Condor and a bone-eating, bearded Lammergeyer vulture swooped low over our heads as the story played out across the river and on to the pageant field complete with boat, raft and rock and roll-style extending platform.
Elsewhere, Archery School and Joust Academy offered kids and adults alike the opportunity to get to grips with longbows, swords and lances at a small extra charge. “Chop off his arms; chop off his legs; give him a good stab; chop off his head,” urged the enthusiastic joust coach.
Ah, the good old days eh?
Then, of course, there’s the castle itself (the view from the top of the tower is stunning), and its many attractions and exhibitions, most of which are also included in the price of admission. Check the official castle website for full details of what’s on when, and admission prices.
There are several pop-up food stalls and vans – with a Purity bar serving local ale, mums and dads! – alongside the usual ice cream outlets and snack stops. We took a picnic, which we ate on one of the many tables available at the front of the mighty castle walls.
All in all, a good day’s knight out for all the family.