‘Clearly a hit with the kids’: JUSTIN’S BAND – Touring ★★★

In Children's theatre, Regional theatre, Reviews, Scotland, Touring by Thom DibdinLeave a Comment

Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Guest reviewer: Natalie Walker

Love him or loathe him there is no mistaking Justin Fletcher. As one of the BBC’s top children’s TV presenters Fletcher – aka Mr Tumble – is one of the most recognisable faces in the land.

As such, you could sense the thrill in the Playhouse as young audience members waited for his live tour, Justin’s Band. Kids merrily munched their chocolate eggs and talked about Justin or Mr Tumble as if he was a family friend. The excitement was real and sweet to see.

First on are the backing dancers, all very theatre school with cheesy grins and over emphasised dance moves. But there is not long to wait for the star attraction…. and when he appears in loose jeans, funky waistcoat and flashing trainers the kids go wild, chanting his name and giggling.

The show begins with Fletcher looking to create his own band. He meets several friends who conveniently all play a different instrument. First, there is Miles and his accordion followed by a drummer, pianist, guitarists and saxophone players. Each gives a wee performance as Fletcher introduces their different instruments. To keep the youngest ones entertained – average audience age is probably around three – there are bonus comedy capers too.

In an obvious nod to his alter ego, Tumble, Fletcher dons a spotty jacket and daft chef’s hat, then proceeds to try and splash his pals with custard pies – inevitably landing up with them on his face instead. It’s a bit on the long side, but the kids love it.

Then comes a quiet and calming version of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ when a giant glitter ball creates thousands of lights around the room – which many of the young ones clamber about to catch.

The second half is singing and dancing from Justin’s newly formed band. What really works are the nursery rhymes. But what misses the mark are less known, pretty forgettable, adult-orientated rock’n’roll songs, during which the kids visibly lose interest. The band and dancers are average but all are able to play the kid’s show game by pulling silly faces and doing the odd leg kick or air guitar move.

The show is like Justin’s House in format with the eponymous leader seeking audience participation and reaction – and giggles. The set is more basic than the TV show’s with a sign and a few flashing lights, but that is all that’s needed as there is always action from his colourfully dressed dancers on stage.

There are touches of Something Special, as he signs some of the show and brings the curtain down with the show’s famous end song Goodbye goodbye.

Although many kids had turned up expecting Mr Tumble the show was clearly a hit with them. There is plenty of audience participation when it comes to singing the known songs and when Justin asks specific questions about what has just happened.

But there is a sense that Justin’s heart really in’t in it. None of his banter is particularly warm or fun or original. It’s all scripted to an inch of its life, which makes it all a bit dull and lifeless at times. And one of the most annoying sights is Justin hitching down his waistcoat every few minutes or so, clearly his nervous habit.

Most parents will have got the sense the main man is far more at ease in front of the camera in scripted work. He does not come across as a natural live performer and does not appear to be particularly himself. But this is an adult talking – what really matters is what the kids thought. And they cleared loved seeing their hero up close and personal.

For about 30 seconds during a song in the second half Justin comes down and mingles with the front of the audience – one young one just mouthed the word: “Wow!”. That really says it all.

Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. In addition to his personal account, he tweets @AllEdinTheatre.
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Thom Dibdin
Thom Dibdin has been reviewing and writing about theatre in Scotland since the last millennium. He is currently Scotland Correspondent for The Stage newspaper. In 2010, he founded AllEdinburghTheatre.com. The city's only dedicated theatre website, it covers all Edinburgh theatre year-round - and all theatre made in Edinburgh during EdFringe. Thom is passionate about quality in theatre criticism and is a member of the Critics' Awards for Theatre in Scotland. In addition to his personal account, he tweets @AllEdinTheatre.