In the Night Garden - Live

Location: UK | Year: 2010 onwards | Size: 66m x 37m



The project involved the design, manufacture and installation of a unique, inflatable, portable theatre to house the "In the Night Garden Live" show - a live stage version of the hugely popular BBC Television children's programme. The show has been touring the UK since 2010.

The theatre is made up of four inflatable structures - an entrance lobby, an auditorium, a backstage area and a link tunnel which measure over 66 metres (216 feet) long by 37 metres (121 feet) wide when assembled. The inflatable entrance lobby has ample room for merchandising, a food and drink area and toilets (including baby changing facilities).

The auditorium incorporates the stage and raised, theatre-style seating which includes general and premium areas. The backstage area provides storage room for the various props and costumes in addition to space for the performers to change.

The entrance lobby and auditorium are linked by an inflatable tunnel which incorporates extra connection points for the addition of other inflatable structures, if required, at a later date.

The four structures have identical connecting door openings so that they can be installed in a variety of configurations to suit the available space at each location on the tour.

The Brief

The show's creators had reached the conclusion that traditional theatres weren't the ideal places for younger audiences – there often isn't much space, and the seats can be at the wrong height. They wanted to create a space especially for children and their parents, where the magic of the Night Garden could be recreated in a way that wouldn't be possible in an old-fashioned theatre.

They wanted a structure which could be transported easily and erected quickly whilst providing around 14,000 square feet of space for an entrance lobby, auditorium and backstage area. The auditorium needed to have sufficient space for 13 rows of raised theatre seating and a stage. It could not have any supporting columns which would spoil the view for the audience.

In addition to the normal lighting used in stage productions, the show would make extensive use of projected images covering the entire visible surface of the interior of the inflatable auditorium. The material used in the construction of the theatre would therefore have to be capable of producing sharp, high intensity images when projected onto. It was also imperative that the auditorium should block out all natural light in order to achieve the maximum impact with the lighting and projections. By contrast, the entrance lobby should make use of as much natural light as possible.

It was also very important that the inflation equipment was not audible from anywhere inside the theatre.

Our Solution

The main challenge was determining the optimum shape for the theatre so that it could provide the space required whilst being structurally sound without any internal columns or supports. Several shapes were analysed before choosing the ellipsoidal forms of the entrance lobby and auditorium.

The next step involved choosing the optimum thickness for the inflatable walls in order to provide sufficient rigidity without being unduly heavy. This required extensive use of finite element analysis in conjunction with analytical techniques we have developed for predicting membrane loads and deflections in inflatable structures.

Material selection was also critical in order to meet the requirements for natural lighting in the entrance lobby, total darkness in the auditorium and the high quality of projected images. Ferrari 402 was selected for the entrance lobby due to its exceptional dimensional stability, light transmission, and excellent strength to weight ratio.

Projection tests were conducted on a number of fabrics before also choosing Ferrari 402 for the internal surfaces of the auditorium. The external surfaces of the auditorium were constructed from Ferrari 602 opaque due to its ability to block natural light transmission.

Our pressurisation systems are already very compact and quiet in operation. To reduce noise levels still further we modified the valves used to connect the inflation hoses so that air entering the walls of the structures was not audible.

The Outcome

Despite a tight deadline and demanding specifications Tectoniks delivered the theatre on-time and on-budget. Our crew installed the theatre at the first two venues whilst providing training for the client’s own crew. All subsequent installations have been performed by the client.

On 1st September, 2013 the show completed its fourth year of touring and has now played to audiences of half a million parents and children. The official YouTube videos accompanying the show have received over a million views and the official Facebook page has 38,000 ‘likes’. This is in addition to the countless blogs and other websites that have been produced regarding the show.

Additional dates and venues have been added to the tour to accommodate the demand for tickets and for the second year of the tour the client commissioned Tectoniks to produce an additional structure to provide more space for merchandising and additional activities including the opportunity for children to ‘meet a character’. The modular nature of the design made this addition straightforward.

“The show domes are an amazing structure to look at, from both inside and outside. Sitting in the audience and experiencing first-hand the fantastic party atmosphere, sharing the delighted excitement of children and parents alike, has to be the all-time highlight of my career.”
Andrew Davenport
Creator of In the Night Garden


IFAI Award of Excellence logo

UK Event Awards Finalist - Unusual Venue of the Year

Images of this project on Flickr

In the Night Garden - Live