Writer: David Baddiel
Adapted by: Adam Fletcher-Forde
Music: David Perkins
Directors: Julia Black & Adam Fletcher-Forde
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
David Walliams might seem to have the monopoly on his children’s books being made into stage shows but David Baddiel’s Animalcolm has also made the crossover from page to stage and is currently on a national UK tour after premiering at the Edinburgh Festival in 2018. Story Pocket Theatre’s Adam Fletcher-Forde has adapted the best-selling children’s novel, added songs, and opened the gates to let six actors loose on the farm!
Malcolm doesn’t quite understand his whole family’s obsession with all things animal. With a house bulging with pets he finds himself with a birthday pet chinchilla rather than the laptop he really wished for. And when the Year Six three day school trip comes around to the deliciously entitled Orwell Farm, Malcolm is far from happy. But an encounter with K-Pax, a wise old goat, casts a spell on the boy meaning that every time he sleeps he wakes in the body of a different animal (well whichever animal happens to be present when he wakes).
With a slight biblical overtone, Malcolm must work out a way to return to human form and back to his family before the cockerel crows three times. Baddiel doesn’t do the adapters any favours in insisting that the protagonist must wake from a slumber in order to morph into the next beast. How many naps can one boy take in a story? But the cast of six launch into their many guises with gusto, ridiculousness and humour. There is no hiding from the influence of Orwell’s Animal Farm but rather than “four legs good, two legs bad”, us versus them, Baddiel’s metaphor is more of a melting pot whereby the animals of the farm begin to understand that they aren’t so different from each other and that by putting yourself in another’s shoes you can understand better. There is a nice moment when the cockney, close harmony singing trio of sheep realise that the language they speak isn’t so far from the goats (who turn out to be Welsh and Scottish!)
The actors are given free reign to delight in their multi-rolling, aided by Jacqueline Troutdale’s symbolic costumes. As Malcolm, Adam Colborne remains very much the boy trapped inside an unfamiliar exterior but the rest of the cast become caricature animals and work hard with a variety of physicality, regional and international dialects.
David Perkins music, although quite sweet, is a little pedestrian with the exception of the excitement of the chimpanzee enclosure when the story relocates to the zoo. Animalcolm is colourful and fun, designed to satisfy young fans of the book but it doesn’t quite translate to an inter-generational piece of theatre that might resonate or explore universal themes.
Reviewed on 26th March 2019. On tour until 28th April | Image: Contributed