You sort of know that something’s not working for you, I think, when you start asking questions that you couldn’t imagine the writer of the story concerned would want you to ask. I reached this point at the end of Paw Patrol Live! The Great Pirate Adventure, as – and I’m sorry, for here comes a spoiler – the assorted canines retried pirate treasure, and danced around the stage as they uncovered a chest of gold and silver.
I was momentarily distracted from the child waving a £15 flashing stick in front of me (available in the foyer, with a Paw Patrol sticker on it, thus warranting the £12 premium on the price the holiday park I was at last week was charging). For I wondered: what are a bunch of dogs going to do with a chest full of gold? Surely some Pedigree Chum, or a bone to chew on, would be a more appreciated reward?
Nonetheless, they looked happy, and that instantly placed them above some 70% of the people of adult age in the SSE Wembley arena on Saturday afternoon. For rarely have I seen a room divided so quickly. Starting ten minutes late – always appreciated, when you’re trying to entertain small children – anyone under five was swiftly rapt by what was happening on stage. Within five minutes, around a third of the parents around me were on Candy Crush Saga.
I’ve been to a few shows of this ilk before, so knew what I was in for. But at least they usually put on a decent show, before trying to flog you as much tat as possible at hefty prices. In this case, the show was at Wembley Arena, on a day when three performances were being packed in. The by-product of this was a sticky floor from the show before, but the arena’s poor sightlines didn’t help anyway when the target audience was both young and short.
The bigger problem, though, was the show just sat on the stage, wilting. The plot followed the dogs – obviously, but not problematically, played by adults in massive costumes – as they undertook a couple of rescues, celebrated Pirate Day and tried to find the aforementioned treasure. They did this by reacting to scenery primarily beamed onto the video screen behind them – not quite Gogglebox with dogs, but the thought crossed my mind. It’s a pity that there wasn’t more investment in sets, physical scenery and such luxuries, but I guess when the whole think has to be packed up and sent to the next big arena, why not just beam video onto a screen? But it hardly makes for a live spectacle.
There were a few moments when the clearly very able person playing Rider tried to get some audience involvement going, but such was the size of the two-thirds full arena that he was on a hiding to nothing. The show instead resigned itself to forgettable songs, dance numbers that could accommodate the fact that most of the performers were in giant dog costumes, and familiarity that the core audience brought along with them. Furthermore, the performers couldn’t follow instinct, as they’re constantly required to keep up with the playing soundtrack, and react to timed things happening on the aforementioned big video screens. Even the limited crowd interaction seemingly had a strict pocket of time to fit into.
In fairness, around half the kids in the crowd looked entertained, although notably many drifted off around me after the initial novelty of the show starting. Conversely, one or two were up dancing, a few laughed gamely at the underpants references, but I never got the sense that the expensive entertainment on stage was offering an upgrade on a sofa, the telly, and watching a few episodes on Nickelodeon. I say that as an advocate of live theatre, but stacked next to something like the stage adaptation of a David Walliams production, that charges the same price and has cheaper programmes (the Paw Patrol programme was £8!), it’s no contest.
This is a just-do-enough arena filler, and a pretty cynical one at that. I felt for the performers, who were all game but had no chance really. And, bluntly, I felt for me and my credit card bill more, because at just shy of £25 a standard ticket, this was no affordable entry-level entry into live shows. The aforementioned dogs celebrating their gold at the end just rubbed salt into a pretty painful wound…
Book tickets for Paw Patrol Live! here.