Music: Luke Bateman
Lyrics: Richy Hughes
Writer: Richard and Florence Atwater
Director: Emma Earle
Reviewer: Sam Lowe
Watch out. Penguins have taken over Waterside Arts Centre. They’re everywhere. If you see one you must automatically give it a hug. Who do they belong to? Mr Popper of course, in a family friendly story similar to A Bear Called Paddington.
Mr Popper is an explorer at heart. But, he can’t do much of that under his current circumstances. He dreams of travelling down to Antarctica, however, he is a painter and decorator at Stillwater (see what you did there). The town’s slogan is: “The town where everyone will fit in” which sends out a valuable message. For Mr and Mrs Popper, their lives change when an unexpected packing crate arrives on their doorstep. Branded across the box it says: “Live Stock”. What’s inside? As repeatedly stated in a musical number, “It’s a Penguin!” In no time at all, ten penguins are waddling around the household as cute pets. How will they adapt to a very different climate in England?
The ensemble of actors and puppeteers are on the mark with their animated pacing and slick transitions from scene to scene. It’s visually interesting all the way through. Their personable presence has the audience in the palm of their hands. The puppeteering of the penguins is not only life-like but full of character. They behave just like children and so are immediately loveable and relatable. Mischievous, friendly, cute, cheeky, adorable, unpredictable, loving, crazy, and high-maintenance are just a handful of adjectives you could use to describe the penguins. The performers also play a plethora of characters in addition to the main individuals in the narrative. Everybody has their own component part in a show where even chaos is choreographed down to a tee. Furthermore, versatile vocal work and singing is demonstrated too, making it all the more engaging for the whole family.
Making up the cast on stage are: Will Kelly, Monica Nash, Benedict Chambers, Susanna Jennings, and Kat Engall (understudy).
Designer, Zoe Squires’ homely and artistic set is welcoming. The tins of paint, brushes, painted signs and ladder complement the creativity and imagination of Pins and Needles Productions. The archway, upstage centre, is titled though and it’s not clear why. As well, some of the action takes place behind the gauze in this archway, which would have been fine but these moments look odd as the town sign is distractedly still visible on the gauze.
When it comes to the music and lyrics in the performance, it introduces young children to musical theatre. One musical number sounds somewhat like something from Annie and another song very much resembles, Ain’t Misbehavin’ from Connie’s Hot Chocolates. The Broadway Musical style is much apparent throughout especially in a showstopper number mid-way through, utilising accelerando. That familiarity with the music works because of its entertainment value. The lyrics are funny too in their relatability. Usually, a Broadway Musical has a massive chorus of people on stage, so to see 4 actors and 10 penguins in their adorable attempt to recreate that experience (when they won’t be able to) is rib-tickling. We’re laughing with them, not at them.
In summary: Mr Popper’s Penguins is a mini musical adventure brought to life by an amiable ensemble through child-like play. Some of it may be set in the freezing cold Antarctica, although the show has the ability to melt the heart. You can safely say that after watching it, not only do the children want a penguin so do the adults. You’ve got to love a penguin.
Runs until: 31 December 2019 | Image: Contributed