Tag Archives: Gareth Clarke

Babe, the Sheep-Pig

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.

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Filed under Family & children's shows, Reviews 2018

A Month of Sundays

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 26 September)

Old age is something which comes to most of us. There are just as many ways in which we progress through it. That’s the theme of Bob Larbey’s 1986 wry comedy, now given a rare revival by Russell Bolam as part of the Queen’s Theatre’s autumn season on ageing.

We are in Cooper’s room at what is obviously a fairly up-market residential care-home in Surrey. His wife of many years is dead and their daughter, married to a somewhat dull lawyer, visits from Milton Keynes with her husband (and occasionally their son) on one Sunday a month. Hence the title.

Cooper (William Hoyland) served in the Second World War and has a slightly military approach to his physical decline. What worries him and his crony Aylott (Robin Hooper) is the possibilityof mental decline, joining what they nickname The Zombies at the care home. They play chess as one means of staving this off and indulge in escape (of the Colditz variety) scenarios.

Those dutiful monthly visits, with the travel traumas they involve, are making Cooper’s daughter Julia (Sophie Russell) even spikier than usual. Husband Peter (Gareth Clarke) is marginally (only marginally) more sympathetic. Both Russell and Clarke inhabit their characters to the full.

Rather more appreciative of the care-home inmates is nurse Wilson (Anne Leong Brophy), a professional who knows how to balance genuine affection for those she looks after with some minor hiccoughs in her own private life. Brophy’s scenes with Hoyland are genuinely moving, two real people sharing an occasional but very important (to them both) wavelength.

Mrs Baker (Connie Walker) has the task of cleaning the rooms, which she does briskly and with just a dash of envy at the space each resident occupies. I’m not sure that I’d want personlly to emply Mrs Baker, but Walker brings her to life.

The key performance is Hoyland’s, a man whose catch-phrase “mustn’t grumble” sums up a whole no-whine generation of men. Aware that the next physical indignity will most probably be a colposcopic bag, even this is turned into a joke. Hooper’s handle-bar moustached Aylott is made of softer material, but the two actors play well off each other.

A Month of Sundays runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 15 October with matinées on 29 Septeber and 8 October.

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Filed under Plays, Reviews 2016