reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 28 August
David Wood’s stage version of the book by Michelle Magorian, in Karen Simpson’s production percolates the music of the Second World War as a counterpoint to the story of on small boy’s evacuation from London to the countryside.
William Beech (Jasmine Briggs) is not a happy child. His embittered mother has twisted her stark religion and personal frustrations into a strap with which – quite literally – she lambasts her son. His bruises are both external and internal.
Billeted on elderly widower Tom Oakley (Roy Hudd), his life begins to change around. Initially the sport of his new schoolmates (he can neither read nor write, but can draw), he slowly becomes integrated into village life and in the process makes friends.
Chief among these proves to be another evacuee. Zach (William Ennew). Zach is a thorough-going extrovert with parents who are both professional actors. There is also Tom Oakley’s dog Sammy, a life-size border collie puppet very well operated by Julia Cave.
The incidental music is directed by Pat Whymark and very well sung and played by the Theatre Royal’s Young Company. Hudd makes a thoroughly enjoyable Oakley, mourning his long-dead wife and their baby son with quiet dignity, and completely credible in the way his relationship with William develops.
As Mrs Beech, Sarah-Louise Young is unrelenting in her portrait of a woman who is her own worst enemy. The first half drags just a little bit, but picks up pace after the interval. Alison Heffernan’s set whisks us from London to the countryside; its splintered wooden planks suggest both rural weatherboard cottages, the bleakness of Mrs Beech’s home and the aftermath of the Blitz.
Four star rating.
Goodnight Mister Tom runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 8 November. There are matinées on 29 August, 2 and 8 September.
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.
(reviewed at the Civic Theatre, Chelmsford on 10 May)
It’s hard to believe that David Wood’s adaptation of The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been around since 2008. The Nick Brooke-Kenny Wax production seems to have been refurbished for the current tour; children who know every syllable and every picture from Judith Kerr’s now-classic story won’t be disappointed in seeing and hearing it all in three dimensions.
Susie Caulcutt’s set and costumes are colourful, and there’s an excellent mask and full furry body for the eponymous tiger. Benjamin Wells has the height for the part and carries off the courtly bows in greeting and farewell while allowing us that frisson which such a large non-domesticated feline needs to evoke. Wells is also the somewhat dozy father, who really does need his wife (Jenanne Redman) and young daughter Sophie (Abbey Norman) to work hard if he is to get to work on time, the doddering postman and glib salesman milkman.
We all know that the incursion of milkman and postman are there just to build up to the moment when the tiger insinuates himself into the kitchen, but it’s cleverly handled and works. Wood’s music and lyrics are a catchy as ever and suit Emma Clayton’s choreography well. Norman is a delight as the little girl who loves the toy kitten which has been her uncle’s birthday gift but is also fascinated by the tiger’s incursion.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge between 10 and 13 May and at the Watford Colosseum 11-12 July.