After seeing the film production of Babe, based on the well-loved book by Dick King-Smith, I was unsure of what to expect from a theatre version of the story. The show started with a well dressed flock of sheep, singing beautiful folk melodies in harmony, which was a great introduction to the play – an english farmyard atmosphere was set and the cast proceeded to get the audience ready to enjoy the show. The costumes and the staging reflected the feeling of being in the countryside; the colours and textures used, combined with the thick west country accents and the stage props, gave an all round farmyard feel to the show. It is a story of Babe, the ‘sheep-pig’: a courageous, polite and empathetic pig who wants to be accepted by the other sheep dogs and can see that the sheep are not stupid and should be treated with respect. It’s an endearing storyline combining elements of sadness, excitement, danger, drama, joy and crowd participation. The story was portrayed in an easy to understand fashion with a simple stage design and a small and talented cast whose chemistry came alive on stage. The strong narrative was portrayed skilfully by the puppeteers, switching characters between dancing sheep, gentle farmer and fearsome wolves with great elegance in the way they controlled the puppets. With this lovable eponymous hero, the humorous sheep, the serious lead sheepdog and of course the lovely old Maa, the ewe, this was a great watch for all the family including young children. Unfortunately Babe, was too small and overshadowed by the very skilful puppeteer which made it difficult for him to hold the audience’s attention, with the lights on the stage blocking a significant amount of Babe’s actions. It was difficult to fully engage with and be touched by his endearing character. The same team of puppeteers were behind the award-winning War Horse at the National Theatre, and it was therefore a little disappointing that my expectations weren’t met. Although a touching story and enjoyable performance it was perhaps more, ‘pantomime’ than, ‘Broadway show’. The choreography was clearly well directed and the singing was gratifying with charming and original songs. All of the puppets were well constructed and so it struck me as unfortunate that the pig was so small, given the size of the auditiorium, stage and audience. Obviously he is a piglet but he is also the main character! However none of that bothered my two year old daughter, who was enchanted by the characters and their beautifully made costumes. She clapped and danced and greeted the characters as they appeared on stage. The production of the show was very enjoyable and has the potential to be great, with a few tweaks to lighting, sound and puppet sizes.
-Carol Ray Bradley
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