Interview: 'If Children Have a Great Time They'll Remember it' Vikki Stone on Adapting HEY DUGGEE for the Stage

Vikki Stone on the Olivier Award-winning show Hey Duggee which is currently on UK tour

By: Apr. 19, 2023
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Interview: 'If Children Have a Great Time They'll Remember it' Vikki Stone on Adapting HEY DUGGEE for the Stage

BroadwayWorld caught up with writer, composer and comedian Vikki Stone to chat about adapting the Olivier Award-winning show Hey Duggee Live for the stage.

Tell me a bit about the writing process for Hey Duggee Live.

There are 300-odd episodes but when I started there were slightly fewer- more were released at the end of last year. The first thing me and (co-adaptor) Matthew Xia did was we got a big whiteboard and wrote out all of the things that needed to go in the show. A bit like working on a show like a jukebox musical, you're dealing with things where people have their favourite bits that they expect to see. From songs and characters to colours and the vibe- anything that we thought was going to be an audience expectation. That was kind of our jumping-off point and we always came back to that.

Ultimately with a show like Hey Duggee, everyone is after a really good time and we just wanted to keep checking in with those things. I wasn't that familiar with Hey Duggee, I don't have children so I had to do a lot of binge-watching. Each episode is seven minutes long and I just worked my way from the top and I watched them all!

How did you break from the format of the seven-minute episode?

With my theatre hat on I knew that the show needed a bigger arc. My brief was to write a sixty-minute show for a set age group with the sweet spot being three. It's a long time to concentrate in that age group so I wanted there to be a really engaging throughline. In every seven-minute episode of Hey Duggee, Duggee is a kind of scoutmaster and the squirrels are the sort of cubs/scouts/brownies. So there are no actual squirrels but they call them squirrels.

Every episode they earn a badge but some of them are really daft. You've got things like the singing badge or the dancing badge but then there are more left-field ones like the omelette badge. Every single episode is called the something badge and I wanted to have a badge that is the overarching throughline of the show and they earn smaller badges along the way which is more in line with the seven-minute episodes. The badges have been really popular in Hey Duggee so I wanted to make sure that everyone in the audience earns a badge too.

The reason why the show is really popular is it skews gender exactly fifty fifty so it doesn't appeal to young girls or boys more and there are lots of reasons for that. One is that most kids can see themselves in one of the squirrels which is why I wanted to make the audience feel like squirrels too. So they will come into the clubhouse and get to earn their badges. So that's kind of where my panto skills kicked in and I made sure there was plenty of audience participation. Every child gets to feel like they've done the thing Duggee has talked us through in order to earn their badge.

On the way into the theatre, everyone is handed a sheet of stickers with all the badges on them. Some children will stick them all over their faces before it starts and we can't do anything about that. But if the kid has managed to keep the stickers intact then they'll earn their badges along with the show.

Do you have a favourite badge?

Yes! Lots of badges make a lot of sense in our world and in the theatre like singing and dancing. My favourite badges are the omelette badge and the egg badge. I like how they felt the need for both.

Interview: 'If Children Have a Great Time They'll Remember it' Vikki Stone on Adapting HEY DUGGEE for the Stage
Hey Duggee Live
Photo Credit: James Watkins

Do you have a favourite character?

My favourite characters are the peripheral characters. There's a panda called Chew Chew and there's Mrs Weaver the Beaver. In Hey Duggee Live we decided to give all these cool peripheral characters this fierce multi-role track. I think there are seven or eight characters in it including Mrs Weaver and Mr and Mr Crab- the crab couple. That's what's so great about this show, its so inclusive. Mr and Mr Crab are a very funny set of characters.

Why do you think it is so important to produce such high quality children's theatre?

Because it's children's first experience and I think if children and parents have a great time and are really blown away they'll remember it. If they come to Hey Duggee Live and its amazing, they may well take a chance on something else and it might be new writing or something that's not massively famous. Generally, the arts economy is better off with shows like Hey Duggee Live.

I fought really hard during the creative process to make sure that everything was done to the highest quality from the sound system its touring with to. We're not doing B-grade stuff because its for the under 5s- everything is on its A-game. There's a mid-section in this that I think has all of the theatrical magic of a West End show. That's kind of not the industry norm, kids shows haven't quite had those production values.

Also, we're touring to big venues and I wanted to make sure that the 3-year-old that is sat at the back of the grand circle on the third tier has as good a time as the 3-year-old thats in the stall. And that's about the scale and the lighting. Both myself and Matthew pushed for it and that's really paid off.

What's in it for the adults?

Hey Duggee is one of those fantastic family co-viewing shows where there are loads of nods to stuff. In the tv series that is a nod to Apocalypse Now, there's an episode that is like Stranger Things. I wanted to do a kind of theatre equivalent to that so there's quite a few theatre in-jokes that I'm certain your average under 5s won't get.

It's really engaging, it's not the type of tv show where you just plonk the kids down in front of the telly. That's what I wanted to put into the theatre show, that the adults are having as good a time. I had to do a bit of work to turn the songs into theatre style and theatre-length pieces because in telly a ninety-minute song is fine but in theatre you want to have a repeating chorus, harmonies and dance breaks. There's a lot more to theatrical music so I took what writers Tin Sounds had done and expanded the pieces for the theatrical landscape.

How has audience response been so far?

It's been absolutely fantastic. Watching the previews and the initial run was so exciting. Working with Grant Orchard and the animation team, animation works in a completely different way to us, the script has got to be so solid and you can't change it once the animation has started. Whereas in theatre the scripts have been tweaked and changed through previews.

We had more material than we needed and it was a bit long but you need to put it on stage to see what people respond to which kind of blew the animation teams mind. It was really really fun to watch the kids engage with the stickers and I said in my Oliviers speech that there was a toddler moshpit that formed at the Southbank with them all just bouncing around.

There's been an interesting conversation about theatre etiquette and how to behave and I definitely get lots of comments from parents about 'my kid won't sit through that' but this isn't a show that you just sit through and watch. It's noisy and interactive and we're asking the audience to shout back and sing along. It's designed for people to have fun.

Interview: 'If Children Have a Great Time They'll Remember it' Vikki Stone on Adapting HEY DUGGEE for the Stage
Vikki Stone & Matthew Xia with thier Olivier Award
Photo Credit: Pamela Raith

Did you have any expectations for the Olivier Awards?

No. Me and Matthew were representing a show with a one in four chance so we prepared and wrote a speech. What was so nice was that Kenny Wax, the producers, decided there would be no plus ones in favour of inviting absolutely everyone who worked on the show. So from the creative team to the cast, stage management, dressers, management- absolutely everyone which was just fantastic. Everyone was like "oh did your husband go" and no, but it was absolutely the right thing to do so that we were all there.

There was a really serendipitous moment where my best friend actually presented it to me. She text me a few days before that she was presenting Best Family Show and I thought it would be actually more painful if we didn't win! I watched the video of it afterwards and there is a moment where I jig her about in a hug and I feel like I need to explain that I didn't just randomly pick up Helen George from Call The Midwife. At the after party I said to her, what would our eighteen-year-old selves have thought of this?

Do you have any dreams for other shows or films you'd like to adapt for the stage?

I've just started thinking about this now. I got asked to do Hey Duggee but people are now asking me what I'd like to do and you find yourself looking at the playing rights. There's one where one of the writers has gone AWOL so we can't get the rights to it but I would love to do a musical of Death Becomes Her, it would be insane. But one of the writers can't be found!

There's a load of classic kids stuff like I think Hook would be an amazing musical. That kind of thing I've got my eye on. I'm finding myself going through the back catalogue of 80s and 90s films and working out what would make a good show. The one I think would make a really good one but it has title issues is Santa Clause The Movie. Obviously, you can't call it Santa Clause The Movie The Musical Onstage, it would be the most terrible title. But maybe it worked for High School Musical The Musical.

What is next for you?

I've got Alice In Wonderland at Liverpool Playhouse and Theatre Royal Plymouth in July and August and then I've got a little break and then its into all the Christmas stuff. I'm doing Cinderella at the Lyric Hammersmith and Dick Whittington at the New Wolseley in Ipswich and something else which hasn't been announced yet. So I've got a very busy Christmas!

Hey Duggee Live is on tour across the UK.


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