reviewed at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on 2 August
It’s not surprising that Dick King-Smith’s book The Sheep-Pig has won hearts since 1983. The eponymous hero Babe is a heart-stealer, well personified in the realistic puppet ably manipulated by Jonathan Cobb in Katie Posner’s new production of the David Wood stage adaptation for the Mercury Theatre.
You may never have been within touching proximity to a sheep or a pig until it reaches your plate, but farm animals of all kinds have parading before us from earliest childhood, in picture books, bedtime stories and television animation.
Sheep-dog trials have become a television favourite. Is it the unpredictability – so much depends on animal as well as human behaviour? Or is it that they blend a unique combination of scenic location with hard-learnt skills?
Babe’s mentor on Mr and Mrs Hoggett (Gareth Clarke and Heather Phoenix)’s farm is sheep-dog Fly (Jessica Dyas). Dyas establishes a rapport with the young audience from her first entrance as she introduces the bewildered piglet to the other animals.
These include the supercilious cat (Rachel Hammond), the blowing-his-own-trumpet cockerel (Joseph Tweedale and the strutting turkey (James Peake). Not that country life is all sunshine and fodder. it also harbours both human and animal predators.
Among the victims is old ewe Ma (Ebony Feare). The picture-book settings and animal costumes by Sara Perks work well, as does Alexandra Stafford’s lighting; the catchy score is by Richard Reeday.
There are occasions when one feels that adult audience members are there as a sort of penance. This is one of those shows which appeals on all age levels, clever enough to hold grown-up attention while subtly draping the central philosophy of courtesy as well as skill with an almost hypnotic rhythm.
Five star rating.
Babe, the Sheep-Pig runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until 26 August with daytime performances.