It's a Bing thing: Ridiculously popular TV show comes to Northern Ireland
Unless you're a mum or dad it's unlikely you'll have heard of Bing, yet it's the second most popular show – after EastEnders – on iPlayer. Jenny Lee chats to north Belfast actor Michael Magennis as the series' A-list bunny and his pals take to the stage for the first time
IF THERE'S a preschooler in your house, there is a high probability they are a Bingster. A superstar of the toddler world, the adorable bunny and his friends celebrate the best and worst of preschool life, overcoming everything from dropping an ice-cream to losing a favourite toy.
Bing is the biggest show on CBeebies, and actually the second most popular show on iPlayer – behind EastEnders. Now Bing and pals Sula, Coco and Pando will be going on the road, and the good news is they are bringing their first ever stage show to Derry and Belfast this July.
Audiences can join Bing and friends as they visit the theatre for the first time and as they learn how to tell stories by pretending, dressing-up and singing songs. Flop and Amma will be on hand as well, to help their little friends through the ups and downs of toddlerhood, but in this magical world things don't always go to plan.
While there are references to certain exisiting episodes of the programme, the CBeebies favourites are brought to life in a brand new stage production full of fun, laughter, music and puppetry.
Ardoyne actor Michael Magennis, who starred as Makka Pakka in the UK tour of In The Night Garden, takes up the leading role of Bing.
Having grown up in Belfast, attending the Rainbow Factory school of performing arts, Michael went on to train in Musical Theatre at Performance Preparation Academy, Guildford.
"I'm so excited to bring this brand new show home to Belfast and also to perform in Derry for the first time," says the 24-year-old, who admits that the fictional character has taught him a few things about appreciating life.
"At the start of rehearsals I over-thought the character of Bing. You automatically react to situations logically like an adult, rather than thinking, 'What would a pre-schooler do?'.
"Bing as a character is always happy, unless there is a genuine reason not to be. He's about finding the joy, curiosity and excitement in everything. So everything – from exploring the curtains in the theatre, to dressing up, is a game to him and it's been so much fun to develop his character.
"His attitude is infectious and I've started to view the world in a new light and question things with the open-eyed curiosity of a child."
A cast of six act sing and use puppetry in recreating the characters.
"The puppets are strapped to our feet, chest and backs and we are behind them. You do see us, but the focus is on the puppets, wearing their iconic outfits," explains Michael.
He has done extensive research for the role, watching all 77 episodes of the television show and inviting his friends over to his flat for "pizza, drink and a few episodes of Bing", on more than one occasion.
And why does he think the show has become such a hit with children and parents alike?
"I think it's so popular because it doesn't talk down to, or patronise kids. These characters are all very relatable. The first thing I was told at rehearsals was that Bing was as 'the every boy'. For every child – or adult – it's very possible to see the world through his eyes.
"He's a very easy character to invest in, as is his relationships with Sula and Flop. They are genuine and replicate real life."
Bing Live! is directed by Will Tuckett, whose production of Wind in the Willows won an Olivier Award for Best Entertainment in 2014. Costume and puppet design is by Tahra Zafar, whose credits range from the London 2012 Olympic ceremonies to TV show Zingzillas, as well as the movie Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone.
"It's important we do justice to the TV show, but also use the power of theatre and puppetering to introduce the art form to young audiences – who perhaps are visiting the theatre themselves for the very first time," says Michael, who sings the praises of his director.
"Will is like Bing himself – he's curious and a bundle of energy and not afraid to allow us to make mistakes."
And does Michael see his future in chidren's entertainment?
"I've trained in musical theatre and would love to do more work there in the future, but if playing the role of Bing is the highlight of my career I won't be ashamed as it's very humbling and rewarding to see kids and grown-ups cheer, sing and dance along with you."
:: Bing Live! will be at Derry's Millennium Forum on July 4 and 5 and Belfast's Waterfront on July 7 and 8. Tickets from venues and online at Bingliveshow.com