Writer, Director and Music: Steve Kray
Reviewer: Nicole Craft
Dr John Dolittle is in a bit of a pickle. He borrowed some money from fat-cat Mr Slimepot to build a pig-pen and now Slimepot wants it back, with interest … or he’ll repossess his house. While pondering what to do and how to explain everything to his wife, Emily, Dolittle discovers – much to his surprise – that he can converse with animals. Could the animals possibly hold the key to solving his problem? Dolittle genuinely doesn’t know but it’s in his nature to go to the ends of the earth to help them all; so to the ends of the earth to help them all he goes, bringing us along for the ride.
Stuart Ash begins his interactions with the children before the show even begins, walking the aisles introducing himself as Dr Dolittle while testing people’s reflexes with a blow-up hammer. His general persona grabs everyone’s attention immediately and the youngsters are quickly engrossed and all revel in the regular open invitations to shout at the stage panto-style and join in with his banter. Perfectly juggling the levels of talented actor and kids’ entertainer, he turns Dolittle into a loveable character that everybody is rooting for the success of.
Phoebe Cresswell is strongest when playing puppeteer but is the weaker of the three-strong cast when in character on-stage, with her various roles somewhat merging into one on occasion. Despite this, she still manages to charm – her rapport with Ash and Andy Pierce helping things along.
Pierce, with the exception of his farmer character, utterly masters his many rôle swaps (to the point this reviewer’s 9-year-old doesn’t realise there are only three actors until the end) and each one is performed with much hilarity. Dodgy accents raise giggles, audience interactions evoke boos and we just can’t help but fall in love with the performing pig, however bad his jokes are. His timings are spectacular, his expressions both killing and comedic and he puts enough degrees of separation in the portrayal of his various characters to really convince us of their differences.
For a low-budget, small ensemble production, Dr Dolittle packs a surprisingly mean punch. The costumes and puppets are perhaps pitched a little below the intended 7+ age group, the Brexit jokes the adults are all bored of now are unnecessary, and the odd character portrayal is baffling to say the least (what on earth is going on with the farmer is anyone’s guess), but this pails into insignificance as the cast give it absolutely everything from start to finish.
Despite a fairly empty Albany Theatre auditorium, the three – in their various guises – manage to win us over and have the vast majority singing, dancing and flossing in the stalls creating quite the atmosphere with this light-hearted and traditionally executed offering. Children rushing out to meet the stars and get a sticker at the end is the ultimate sign Dr Dolittle has done its job; a simple show that will delight the very people it’s meant to.
Reviewed on 28 October 2018 and on tour | Image: Contributed