A PIG TALE TROTS ITS STUFF
Strike day in a hot pedestrian London, and a surreal opening matinee for Stiles and Drew’s new family musical (fresh from the Singapore Rep’s Little Theatre and knocking out a couple of shows a day before The Commitments takes over with moodier night music). Pop meets nursery, as squads of excitable children and toddlers are ushered with difficulty through crowding paparazzi: for these are bankable pigs, with Saturday TV and boy-band credibility.
Simon Webbe of Blue (and Strictly) is a Big Bad Wolf in Elvis quiff and lamé biker-jacket, Leanne Jones from Hairspray is one bouncy piglet, the ripped and street-cool Taofique Folarin from the Lion King another, and Daniel Buckley of Loserville racks up his second Piggy-related role after a Lord of the Flies tour. As for Mummy Pig, it’s Alison Jiear, Olivier nominee fro Jerry Springer the Opera (never, never forget her “I just wanna dance!”). She spiritedly throws the trio out to make their way in the world, in a fine belting aria which might catch on in the age of boomerang kids. Especially as the ousted offspring respond with cheerful optimism and a chorus of “Big Wide World – perfect for a pig!”
There was talk of Gareth Gates playing pig 3, the sensible one with the bricks, but vocal problems we are told prevented it. I must say that he is missing a fair bit of fun in not climbing into the rather fine fat-suit dungarees and curly tail and oinking along. For a 55-minute children’s show, this packs in all the musical-theatre elements in miniature: a short but ferociously jolly overture, genuinely witty choreography, a little bit of recitative, the necessary jeopardy, a basic but effective set reveal when the three houses appear, and a few big numbers causing adults in the stalls to go “whoooop!”, to the puzzlement of their more decorous young companions. Very educational.
Anthony Drewe has respected the famous tale (even giving us the exchange with “Not by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin” but made the straw-building pig (Jones) worry about ecologically sustainable materials, the stick one (Folarin) a nicely feckless and games-mad badboy, and Buckley a thoughtful bookish nerd whose particularly lovely voice soars in his dream of building a brick house where they could all live together. Including Mum. The Wolf does his huffing to good effect, with visible string-tugging effects to bring the roofs off : visible is good, children like to feel they could do the show again at home after tea, and Webbe the Wolf’s resort to an asthma inhaler when his huffing fails will also strike a chord in the modern primary classroom. He gets his comeuppance in the cooking-pot, despite the more earnest piglet’s attempt to save him and “hand him over to the police” and the eco-sow’s fret about wolf culls not being environmentally sustainable.
But such asides are for the parents, and for all its good heart this is not one of those cloyingly responsible middle-class educational shows. Just a good lark: jolly theatre with an arful twist of street cred to keep the older brothers and sisters onside as well as the small, wondering theatre newcomers. Clever.
box office 0844 482 9677 to 6 sept
rating three (think of them as pigs, OK?)