It is possible for an adult to sit through hundreds of hours of In the Night Garden and still not have a clue what is going on. Children, however, see the multi-Bafta-winning show entirely differently. They know exactly what is happening – the only problem is extracting them from in front of the television set when it is on.
Not that most parents want to, because for a generation of pre-school-age youngsters, the CBeebies series from the creators of the Teletubbies, with its hypnotic hurdy-gurdy theme tune and baffling array of characters, has become a bedtime institution. Now showing across 36 territories worldwide, and having sold one million spin-off DVDs, 2.5m books and 4.4m plush toys, Igglepiggle and company are a merchandisers' dream.
This weekend the marketing boundaries will be pushed even further when Liverpool's Sefton Park plays host to the world premiere of a £1m live version of the show. Already being hailed as the biggest family event this summer holiday, In the Night Garden Live will play to 500 people at a time, five times a day, six days a week from July to October at city parks in Merseyside, London, Glasgow and Birmingham. More than 100,000 adults and their toddlers are expected to see the one-hour performances which promise to faithfully recreate the kaleidoscopic colours and surreal enchantment of the sun-dappled forest setting that has proved so popular with viewers since the series first aired in 2007. Tickets cost from £5 to £20.
Everything from Top Gear to The Tweenies has been rolled out at theatres and exhibition centres up and down the land to "broaden the experience" and the brand beyond the traditional screen. But nothing quite like In the Night Garden Live.
Two vast inflatable igloo domes with the appearance of giant bouncy castles appeared over the weekend among the trees in south Liverpool's sprawling Victorian park. Built by engineers at car-makers Ferrari to be capable of withstanding Force 11 gales, one of the structures will play host to a 13-tiered amphitheatre from which will fly a copy of the show's famous multi-coloured airship the Pinky Ponk, tethered to a height of 50 metres. Beneath this an eight-strong cast clad in the big woolly suits of the main characters – Igglepiggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka – will re-enact newly created stories based on some of the original television episodes. They will be accompanied by the distinguished cadences of the show's narrator, the Shakespearian actor Sir Derek Jacobi.
The second dome will aim to make parents' lives easier with spaces to park toddlers' buggies, nappy- changing facilities and microwaves to warm up baby food alongside the inevitable merchandising kiosks.
Producer Andrew Collier of Minor Entertainment, who has previously worked on stage adaptations of TV hits such as Pepper Pig and Lazy Town, believes In the Night Garden Live offers something new for parent and toddler alike. "This is the first time a show like this has been done in a touring structure. You cannot do what we have done in a conventional theatre where you are constrained," he said. "Working out how to do it in this fashion was the eureka moment.
"Not only does it work better as a theatrical experience than in a Victorian theatre where the loos are at the wrong height and the seats are designed for adults but it makes it a better experience for families as well."
In the Night Garden grew out of a collaboration between former schoolteacher Anne Wood and children's performer Andy Davenport. The pair revolutionised children's broadcasting in 1997 with the Teletubbies by directly focusing on the needs of toddlers. It was controversial and became caught up with the burgeoning debate over the alleged harmful effects of television on children. It was a massive success, and Laa-Laa, Tinky Winky and friends became instantly recognisable symbols of the decade.
The pair adopted similar tactics for their long-awaited follow up, investing £14.5m in the project – around half the entire amount spent by British commercial broadcasters on children's programming that year. The 2006 Ofcom ban on junk food advertising during kids' shows was blamed for leaving a £39m hole in production budgets. Soon after its launch in the CBeebies primetime bedtime slot, In the Night Garden was drawing audiences of 500,000. When it was moved to a daytime position there was an immediate revolt with angry letters and online petitions demanding its reinstatement.
Andrew Collier believes the reason the show has been successful is because it sees things in the same way as its target audience: "It engages children because it relates to the world in the same way they do. A lot of the show is about the relationship between scale and space and children are fascinated about getting inside things and seeing how they work."
Success will be measured by whether children take to the show as they have on screen. Yesterday, 20-month-old Isaac Hill gurgled appreciatively after meeting the cast and sneaking a ride in the Ninky Nonk – the train which punctuates most episodes with a runaway journey up and down the garden's trees. His grandmother Angela Birkenhead said adults could get something out of the show too: "We watch it alongside the children and we see them become transfixed by what they see. So we enjoy it too because we are looking through their eyes."
Little characters with a big profile
Bob the Builder
Created by former advertising agency art director Keith Chapman, who had previously made Muppets for Jim Henson, the amiable construction worker was launched on to British television screens in 1999. It went on to generate more than £1bn in international retail sales before being sold to HIT Entertainment. Actor Neil Morrissey provided the voice for Bob, who gave us the catchphrase "Can we fix it?" as well as two No 1-singles and a hit album. In 2005, Chapman launched Fifi and the Flowertots.
Former pre-school teachers turned children's super group. The Australian band now features in television programmes, live shows and amusement park sections. Last decade they were named the top-earning Australian entertainers for four years consecutively with 17 gold albums, 25 platinum-selling albums and DVD sales of 17m.
Based on the best-selling children's books written by Katharine Holabird and illustrated by Helen Craig, first published in 1983, the stories of the little mouse who loved to dance and eat cheese pies became an animated television series in 2002 by HIT Entertainment. A CGI version with a slimmed-down mouse appeared in the US in 2009. English National Ballet took a popular live version of Angelina on tour in 2007.