Adaptor: David Wood
Director: Michael Fentiman
Reviewer: Simon Topping
As the audience enter the theatre their eyes are drawn to the stage and the sheep pen, which is constructed upon it, where four innocent looking “sheep” bustle and baa together. As the lights drop the sheep begin to sing and dance in unison. There are audible whispers of “Wow” from the children around me. This is the start to a delightfully simple adaptation of Dick King-Smith’s classic novel, The Sheep Pig. Here we rediscover the story of the brave piglet called Babe, won at a fair by farmer Hogget, (raised by Fly the sheepdog) who goes on to do remarkable things.
The staging, designed by Madeleine Girling, is authentically rustic looking with a large grassy area at the front allowing the sheep costumed actors room to gamble, graze, dance and even play the violin from one scene to the next. To the rear, the barn (doubling as the Hogget’s living room) draws the eye into a quieter, warmer space where most of the more tender moments happen.
The small cast traverses human and animal characters skilfully with an aptly placed hat or scarf planted over their woolly exterior at the appropriate juncture. Some of the animals, including Babe, are represented by puppets masterfully created by Max Humphries and Dik Downey. As well as Babe there’s a cheeky flock of ducks that wheel about the stage, a menacing cat, some young pups and a large wise old ewe called Ma. The face masks for the characters of Mr and Mrs Hogget are oddly reminiscent of the grotesque comedy show Bo Selecta and Babe is voiced like a young Alan Bennett but these factors do not concern a young audience who revel in the vibrant movement on stage and catchy songs written by Barnaby Race.
There are great moments of comedy as the play continues; Babe’s montage and dream sequences are particularly funny. There are also moments of palpable tension. The giant, mechanical looking, wolf puppet sweeping in at the end of the first half is particularly frightening to the young audience. These moments of unease are enhanced by Barnaby’s great score and the brilliant atmospheric lighting by Jack Knowles which intensify the drama.
The novel and the 1995 Oscar winning film that derived from it are a hard act to follow, but this is simple, condensed, story-telling well told for a young audience and the young at heart.
On tour until 10 September 2017 | Image: Image: Contributed