Photos by Sheldon Ang
Reflecting on the quarter century since I’d previously seen The Wiggles, when I bunked off work citing a dental appointment to take my then five-year old to an afternoon matinee at the Entertainment Centre, I was expecting a lot would have changed with this ubiquitous Aussie children’s band and their show. The obvious being the line-up, with all but Anthony remaining from the OG Wiggles, the others having retired from live performance, being replaced by Emma, Lachy and Simon. Of course, given this change took place in 2013, the ‘new’ members are hardly news, but a lot of other stuff has changed in the last 25 years.
Joy is a big part of what keeps the kids in the audience engaged and it’s evident in all of The Wiggles’, and their onstage friends’, performances. They genuinely love what they do.
Society has been transformed almost completely with the advent of social media, 24/7 availability of content and the influence of platforms like YouTube, Spotify and TikTok on creators and consumers alike. We seem somehow more voracious, less forgiving and less inclined to pay attention. I was keen to see how updating to such conditions would affect The Wiggles and their approach to children’s entertainment in 2021. In the lead up to show time, a video on the big screens showing how to give first aid seemed to confirm my notion. Since when were kids taught to do CPR and use defibrillators? Yep, things were going to be very different today and not only because this time I didn’t have a preschool-aged kid in tow.
And I was right, everything had changed, but nothing had changed at all. The Wiggles’ setlist was pretty much the same today as it was when I saw them 25 years ago. That same blend of nursery rhymes and rock and roll disguised as children’s music. They arrived at RAC Arena in the same Big Red Car they’d driven to the Entertainment Centre, ran through all their hits, including ‘Rock A Bye Your Bear’, ‘Dorothy The Dinosaur’, ‘Hot Potato’ and ‘Fruit Salad’ (more on this later), and also gave their adoring fans ‘We’re All Fruit Salad’ the newie celebrating 30 years of The Wiggles. Thirty years!
This morning, at RAC Arena, The Wiggles restored my faith in humanity. They showed that nursery rhymes are still a thing with pre-schoolers. We haven’t somehow shifted to a world where the next generations are being brought up on bite sized portions of hip hop and gangsta rap, twelve bar blues still does the job perfectly well. You see, I’ve always thought of The Wiggles as a gateway band to the cornucopia of rock and roll, giving kids a wholesome taste of what’s to come, but never disturbing their innocence. If you want to be into gangsta rap, that’s all good, but you don’t need influencers like The Wiggles nudging you in that direction before you’re able to make up your own mind. So, to see that The Wiggles still trade heavily on innocence and whimsy and that a rose eating dinosaur, a dog called Wags, an octopus and a rakish pirate with a sword made of feathers are still stars of their show was both comforting and refreshing.
What also was refreshing were the ‘new’ additions to the line up — new to me, anyway. Star of the show, by far, was Yellow Wiggle, Emma Watkins, who brings such an array of talent to her role and, with a background in dance, adds a dimension that should inspire generations of girls and boys to want to move and dance just like her. Purple Wiggle, Lachy Gillespie, is a WA Academy of Performing Arts graduate, and it shows in the polished way he goes about his performance. He’s got a fabulous voice and has presence to burn. As does Red Wiggle, Simon Pryce, who looks like the sensible one, anchoring things on stage, but is never far from making one of those quips that keeps the adults in the audience engaged throughout what is a fast-paced show. Blue Wiggle, Anthony Field, the remaining OG Wiggle in the current line-up, does what he’s always done, plays guitar and sings and does it with genuine joy. Joy is a big part of what keeps the kids in the audience engaged and it’s evident in all of The Wiggles’, and their onstage friends’, performances. They genuinely love what they do.
One thing The Wiggles have never done is play down to their audience. So, when they chose to wrap today’s serving of their old standard ‘Fruit Salad’ in a cover of Tame Impala’s ‘Elephant’, reprising their recent much lauded Like A Version performance on Triple J, it wasn’t just a nod to the parents. It also was an acknowledgement that times have changed, and with them, The Wiggles. But the healthy serving of ‘Fruit Salad’ in its midst told us that with change, everything stays the same. Confused? If you ever get to see The Wiggles, just look at the rows upon rows of happy kids and then you’ll get it.