It’s rare that a live spin-off of a kids’ TV show is actually better than the original programme. But honestly, ‘Operation Ouch! Live on Stage’ is as much fun as I’ve had in a West End theatre this month.
A quick step back here: if you’re reading this review and don’t have kids who watch CBBC’s long-running light-hearted medical documentary show, then there are solid odds you’re reading this review by mistake. However, by way of explanation, ‘Operation Ouch’ is presented and written by (still practising) twin doctors Chris and Xand van Tulleken. In it, they seek to demystify the world of hospitals, illness, injury, the human body and more. It’s very entertaining: packing in reams of facts about what could potentially be pretty distressing subjects into short, funny episodes that are greatly enlivened by the twins’ banter: they ping off each other like a more knockabout Kirstie and Phil.
Still, they’re positively demure on screen next to this joyous live outing. Liberated from the need to spend time sensitively filming sick or injured children, ‘Operation Ouch’s live incarnation – written by the Van Tullekens and directed by Peter Adams – borders on medical-themed stand-up. Or maybe that should be character comedy: ‘Operation Ouch’ very much plays up the idea that Xand is a lazy, self-interested slob and Chris is a prissy ultra-professional. It’s very much there in their on-screen dynamic, but here it’s pushed to amusing extremes, as the bickering twins embark upon a quest to find the missing piece of their family’s valuable poo collection. Yes, it is a silly framing device, but it provides the jumping-off point for a wild array of facts about the human body, combined with some epic mucking around: at one point Dr Xand gives himself a live endoscopy, which is amusing, heart-stopping and somewhat nauseating, all at once.
The Von Tullekens are clearly prodigiously gifted chaps, who could presumably have gone in for more traditional showbiz careers if they’d wanted to. This show is surely on some level an opportunity for them to live out their semi-suppressed rockstar fantasies. And they’re absolutely brilliant at it – if your sprogs have any love for the TV series, or if you just want really to see a man entertainingly shove a camera into his throat via his nose, then this is for you.