Numberjacks are on their way to Ipswich

The only things that entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE finds down the back of his settee is the odd chocolate wrapper and, if he’s lucky, some loose change. For a generation of youngsters, their settees are the doorway to adventure. Come meet the Numberjacks.

THEY are the sofa-dwelling superheroes who have taken telly by storm – and now they’re coming to the stage.

Helping youngsters learn about numbers, shapes and sizes in a fun way, the award-winning TV series has run on CBeebies continuously since 2006.

Written by ex-English and drama teacher turned TV scriptwriter and producer Chris Ellis, who has written for Grange Hill, it follows the adventures of the Numberjacks and their arch villains the Meanies like the Numbertaker and Spooky Spoon.

The live show, suitable for two-years-old and up, came about after producer Richard Temple saw how much his own children enjoyed and learnt from the TV show so approached creators Open Mind Productions about bringing it to the stage.

Chris wrote the script and together they created new video sequences, live action scenes and music.

There were a number, if you’ll excuse the pun, of challenges. Chief among them, translating the animated show - where you can make the characters do exactly what you want - to the physical stage.

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They chose to use performers who “help” [wink, wink parents] the Numberjacks move around when they come to the real world. There is a fair chunk of animation too, courtesy of a big screen.

What hasn’t changed, however, is making sure youngsters remain at the centre of the action. The plot sees the live show go wrong and the Numberjacks called from their sofa base to put it right with the aid of the audience, who are made Numberjack agents.

“It’s very interactive, very child-centred. As a parent and an adult I’ve been to a number of kids’ shows and I think these [types] are the most successful,” stresses Chris.

“The audience will have to find numbers and shapes around them; they must jump up, shout and call out, sing along, hold up the right number of fingers, wave your hands the right number of times.”

There’s quite a strong pantomime feel to the show; with lots of dancing, comedy, slapstick and fun. He believes there’s an element of excitement too; a thrill and a sort of Thunderbirds and Doctor Who feeling appropriate for the age group - can the audience beat the Meanies?

“Kids’ programmes can be a bit too gentle. We had a mum who asked her kid ‘are the Meanies scary’ and her kid said ‘no, they’re not scary but they are shivery’. I think that’s a lovely word to something that we all like at any age, to be a little bit thrilled an excited. You can’t really have superheroes unless they’ve got some enemies,” he laughs.

I know what you might be thinking, learning about maths sounds like a hard sell for a family afternoon out; it’s a bit cold.

Chris says otherwise, arguing maths is at the heart of comedy and drama.

Take slapstick comedy like Laurel and Hardy.

If a brick is too heavy to hold and drops on someone’s foot, that’s comedy but it’s also maths. If there are too many baddies for the hero to handle, that’s drama and maths. If things are too big, too small, in the wrong place, been swapped with something else - all of those comic or dramatic situations are also mathematical.

“Maths can be quite theoretical and if you can find a way that makes it come to life, makes you care about it, you’re much more likely to learn it. By pulling kids into a story where you care about the characters, find the setting interesting and amusing, find the action exciting and funny then your brain is engaged because your heart is engaged.

“Numberjacks helps parents talk to their kids about maths. Lots know how to help their children to read and develop a love of books, but it’s much harder to find ways of doing the same thing with numbers and maths.

“Maths is everywhere and the Numberjacks help switch children and parents on to that fact; both can look around - in the car, the supermarket, at home and start seeing maths around them and have a good time playing with and it.

Numberjacks come to Ipswich’s Regent Theatre this Sunday.

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