Hazel Edwards has written more than 200 books in a career spanning 43 years, but what she calls the “highlight of my literary career” came just this week – watching the stage show of her beloved children’s classic There’s A Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake.
“I was absolutely thrilled,” she says.
“I’ve got my grandson sitting alongside me, totally engrossed, a mixed audience of adults and children and a cast that were all enjoying themselves. Some of the children were mouthing along with everything, and some turned up in little pink dresses.”
The show, Hippo Hippo! combines themes from the 1980 book and its five sequels, all colourfully illustrated by Deborah Niland.
The performance is touring nationally, including a string of dates at various Melbourne venues, as well as country Victoria.
It’s been adapted for the stage by Garry Ginivan, who’s well-known for transferring popular children’s stories such as Wombat Stew and My Grandma Lives In Gooligulch into musicals.
Hippo! Hippo! A Big New Musical Adventure
- National Theatre, St Kilda, May 24
- West Gippsland Arts Centre, Warragul, June 20 & 21
- Clocktower Centre, Moonee Ponds, June 24
- Cardinia Cultural Centre, Pakenham, June 25
- Burrinja Cultural Centre, Upwey, June 29 & 30
- Gasworks Arts Park, Albert Park, July 2
- Whitehorse Centre, Nunawading, July 7
- Frankston Arts Centre, Frankston, July 8 & 9
The story is of a small girl and her imaginary friend, a big pink loveable rogue of a hippopotamus who lives on the roof and is causing it to leak.
The hippo, as the girl will tell you, can do what he likes, including eating a steady diet of cake.
It wasn’t Hazel who first came up with the idea, it was her then-four-year-old son Trevelyan, who explained that it was a hippopotamus who eats cake who was causing a leak in the family’s new Blackburn home.
Hazel says her children (her daughter Kim was then aged six) and a neighbour’s child helped her to put the idea down on paper.
“So many children aged around four – which is a most imaginative age – want an imaginary friend and many of them have variations of that. But it was just the fact that I captured it. We really did it just for fun.”
In its 36 years, Hippo has become one of the most popular Australian children’s books ever.
It’s sold more than one million copies internationally, it’s been translated into Chinese, Auslan and Braille, it was turned into a short film in 2011, and it was given as a gift from the Australian government to the newborn daughter of Princess Mary of Denmark.
But, most significantly, it’s been loved by thousands of children, their parents and grandparents, for generations.
“I was signing books a few years ago in a bookstore and this really well-muscled bikie with tats came along. I had all these four and five-year-olds in a queue, and he stood over me and he said, “great book that, read it when I was a kid” and kept walking,” Hazel says.
“Of all the books I’ve published, the Hippo is the one that everybody relates to. Yes I am surprised that it’s lasted that long … But I always knew it was special.”
Hazel says she continues to get children knocking on the door of the same Blackburn home where she wrote the book and still resides, asking if this is the house where the hippo lives.
“So I say, ‘have a look!’ I don’t say yes and I don’t say no. I think the important thing is that the children use their imaginations,” she says. “A book doesn’t really belong to the author or the illustrator once it’s published, it actually belongs to the reader’s imagination.”
And, in case you’re wondering, her roof does still sometimes leak.