Calling all Wallace and Gromit fans: have I got a treat for you! Our family just witnessed new W&G animations, a fabulous live orchestra and an old classic all rolled into one toe-tapping, heart-warming, giggle-infused performance.
First though, a short disclaimer: I was gifted these tickets by Carrot Productions marketing department (the people who put these productions together). However, I’ve got to say that, as a marketing department, they have strangely perfect timing. I’d had my eye on this production for months as we’d been to see The Snowman at Chester Cathedral (read the review I wrote here which was basically me just emoting about what a gorgeous childhood experience it is: Snowman Review) and I was just about to buy tickets to go and see this performance anyway. So thank you, Carrot Productions!
Right, back to the show!
Reading up around the performance, I was brought up short by the news that A Grand Day Out first aired in 1990. That’s nearly 30 years ago! Wallace and Gromit still feel like new to me. Perhaps I knew at the time that I was watching an instant classic or, as I suspect, I just really enjoyed the sweet humour, brilliant stop animation and wild adventures of one man and his dog (plus cheese). Either way, the quality of the films just shines and I still love them both, as do my girls who wouldn’t even stop to question how old Wallace and Gromit are.
Wallace and Gromit is set in the kind of timeless Ever-North inhabited by the likes of the late (and much missed) Victoria Wood. To call it a cliché is to do it a disservice as it gently ribs its birthplace at the same time as honouring it. The accents are kind, as are the puns (Wallace’s new piece of music is a Concerto in Ee Lad), and though there’s a darker wit underlining it all it’s generous enough to always end happily. Except for maybe Feathers McGraw the evil penguin in The Wrong Trousers. And sundry other villains who frankly had it coming.
Part of Wallace and Gromit’s charm is its joyfully irrepressible title music. The brass band has never sounded so jolly. I know that there are many fine brass and silver bands from Wales as well as other parts of the UK but, to me, a brass band feels northern in its soul. Perhaps that’s from my 90s childhood viewings of The Full Monty and Brassed Off, but it feels true. To be in the presence of all that brass in full throat is to be sincerely moved, despite all Tetley Tea and Hovis jokes.*
Now, imagine being able to watch the inimitable Wallace and Gromit with the backing of a live orchestra. Incredibly exciting, right?!
This year Aardman Animations has teamed up with Carrot Productions and the Picture House Orchestra to create something truly magical. Not only are there new Wallace and Gromit animations, beautifully timed to interact with the orchestra, they also introduce children to the musicians and their different sections within the orchestra. And if you haven’t heard the Wallace and Gromit theme tune without real bells and whistles (well, flutes) then frankly you haven’t lived.
Shortly after we’d filed into Birmingham’s magnificent Symphony Hall, we had a short preview of Aardman’s new film (Farmageddon – keep an eye out for it!) and then we were straight into the action. Maestro Matthew (a real person) was caught out fast asleep in his dressing room and had to leg it to the stage to start the show. My eldest daughter was captivated by his shiny suit and silver boots from the off and developed something of a crush on Matthew (“Mummy, why is that man so FUNNY?!”).
Matthew (Matthew Sharp) was our narrator, for want of a better word as he fulfilled so many roles. He communicated with Wallace and Gromit (via the phone and a thermos flask – lovely touch) and introduced some of their best hits from the shows, as well as playing cello and singing to Bohemian Rhapsody. The showreel contained a super-charged, villain-defeating crescendo and then some love scenes with Wallace and many of his (oddly) numerous leading ladies.
And this is the blimming clever part, all of the scenes and incidental music – apart from a rocking Bohemian Rhapsody and an utterly gorgeous version of Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry About A Thing – were classical pieces. They were deftly inserted in a way that sat them along pop tunes like the most natural neighbours. Classical music here isn’t elitist or scary. It’s funny, moving, thrilling and romantic. I think that a chance for our kids to experience this kind of introduction to classical music is a magnificent gift to them.
At the interval we fed and watered our hungry chicks whilst we had the chance (which was much appreciated). Then we waited for the show to start again with real anticipation. At this point I’d have to say that probably just over half of the audience were adults and they were enjoying it at least as much, if not more, than the kids. They were titters, nay guffaws, at the performances on stage and screen. We were in the hands of true professionals and the joy was palpable.
Eventually, after the orchestra had regained their seats, The Wrong Trousers began showing. It was the perfect Wallace and Gromit film for us as the girls had somehow managed to miss seeing it before this point. The youngest was enthralled by the naughty penguin and the eldest mixed her adoration of the film with that for the maestro. I couldn’t wait until the best chase scene ever performed. The score was considerably enhanced by the thrilling live musical accompaniment: I really can’t say too many good things about these productions (can you tell?!).
It felt like it was over all too soon and we were sad to say goodbye to the orchestra (and STEVE! the conductor), Maestro Matthew and Wallace and Gromit but we skipped out laughing and chatting all the same. We had a cracking day out, thanks to their performances, that we won’t forget in a hurry – and here I am proselytising to you all about it. Again. If you’re near a venue where they’re hosting this then please give it a go, it’ll be a family highlight for you.
One thing to add: there were some plasticine animation master classes available for the kids (and their adults) straight after the performance but we’d already decided to have a quick dinner and get out of town before rush hour so we missed out. If you’re going to book tickets (and you should!) then keep an eye out for these. Also, thanks to city centre traffic, we got there a little too late to enjoy the fully-laden merch stand which was a pity.
So, in summation, go and buy tickets! Thank you Aardman, Picture House and Carrot Productions. You’ve created another cracking day out!
It was a full 5 Plums Up from our family!
Postscript: The restaurant we’d chosen to have a quick meal in after the performance was the same one as Maestro Matthew and his family – the eldest was THRILLED! She got to say a personal thank you to him and he was, very kindly, fully engaged with her whilst she was talking to him. It made her day. Top marks, Maestro!
*A friend of mine from oop narth always heads back ‘home’ to see the Whit Friday Brass Band Contest which has been unabashedly trumping out rich tunes since 1884. I’ve been told (I’m shamefully yet to see it in person) that it’s a riot of a weekend with some fantastically moving pieces being played by excellent brass bands. It starts on 14th June this year if you’re feeling inspired and looking for something to do: Whit Friday Brass Band Contest 2019. *