As we stroll into the Globe, my son gasps. ‘We’re here!’ he says, heartily impressed. It would be wonderful to say this was due to some precocious adoration of England’s bard on his part, but he’s actually recognising it from the ads he’d seen for the Globe on the tube a few days earlier, and which I’d painstakingly reminded him he would be visiting very soon. Since this poster was right beside a much brighter poster advertising Paw Patrol LIVE at Wembley Arena, it took considerably more time to explain that his favourite troupe of libertarian canines would not be in attendance. He would, however, see some of his favourite TV characters, since this was a CBeebies performance of As You Like It, featuring some of the channel’s biggest stars.
CBeebies is, of course, a staple of both our lives. To my son, Justin Fletcher’s Mr Tumble is something between Elvis and Jesus Christ. To me, he’s often been something like a co-parent. I don’t think there’s a parent in the UK who doesn’t value the contribution they make to society, and there’s a fair majority who’d burn Downing Street to the ground if their proposed, unjustified cuts to CBBC exceed their reach and target its younger sibling. This is not a neutral position, but I refuse to adopt one. There is such a thing as a public good, and thoughtful, diverse and informative free-to-air children’s programming is just such a thing. We’re just lucky that beyond all that, CBeebies programming is also funnier, smarter, sillier and wiser than it has to be, year after year.
I have had misgivings about their output before – you will remember the mild nervous breakdown I suffered while trying to work out the relative scales of characters on In The Night Garden – but when I got the chance to see the stars of the CBeebies House, Andy’s Dinosaur Adventure and Something Special donning Elizabethan garb in a big wooden sphere, it was an easy yes. In fact, it was the easiest yes since that time this magazine offered me a spa photoshoot in which my four-month-old baby would be pictured with cucumber slices on his eyes.
Now his eyes are wide open, taking in the tiered seating that rises around the stage like a gladiatorial arena. In truth, I don’t know which of us is more enthralled. In my 11 years in London, I’ve never even been to the big, outside bit of the Globe and I’m astonished by the scale and detail. I’d put As You Like It down in my head as one of those comedies where the women all dress like men – and I am proven correct as the show unfolds. I watch as a four-year-old boy is transported by period surroundings, 400-year-old language and just enough modern whizzbangery to keep him rapt with every word.
Star power doesn’t hurt, and Beatlemania erupts in the auditorium when Justin Fletcher takes the stage. As he bounds toward the yelping crowd, I share my son’s delight. His secret identity is safe with my son, however, which I realise when I wrongly call him Mr Tumble. ‘That’s Justin,’ he says, mortified by my mistake. ‘I don’t see Mr Tumble, he must not be here.’
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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