The story of Babe, the Sheep-Pig is undoubtedly appealable to people of all ages, genders and walks of life. Whether you spent your childhood reading the books, or watching the film, Babe is a magical character that defies all odds and reaches for his dreams. Bringing this story to the stage is an arduous project, but one that Polka Theatre have done an impressively magical job of.
As the audience walk into the theatre they are greeted by the set of a farm yard, meticulously built with hay bales, a pen and several noisy sheep. As the lights dim, the sheep begin to sing and the story of the little pig begins. The ensemble of sheep open with a fast-paced musical number, introducing all the characters and leading us to meet Babe.
The farm yard set is interchangeable and adaptable, which are all made by the cast. The use of hay bales and props to create furniture and settings is an imaginative technique which encourages the audience to be playful and think creatively. The set and costume design by Madeleine Girling is innovative, flexible and effective; allowing the ensemble to change characters and scenes easily and fluidly.
The puppetry is an impressive aspect of the production, the puppets designed and crafted by Max Humphries and Dik Downey. With the ensemble doubling up as characters and puppeteers, their ability to move flawlessly throughout is demanding and impressive. One puppet in particular stands out, the Wolf which contains an actor on all fours with the frame of the wolf on his exterior. The eerie and intimidating silhouette of the wolf is perhaps a little scary for the age group, but none of the children around me appeared to think so. It is a little odd that the actor inside the wolf is in his pants, but I’ll put this down to the fast costume change.
The original soundtrack is composed and arranged by Barnaby Race, with uplifting and engaging songs throughout. Unfortunately, for the majority of the show the lyrics are unclear due to the volume of the recorded music being too loud, which is unfortunate. Similarly, were there a recurring musical motif throughout the show for the audience to get used to then audience participation would have come a lot easier.
The ensemble are fast-paced with high energy and seamless character and prop alterations. Their roles are demanding in all areas of the production, pulled off to a high standard. The stand out character is Fly, played by Nicola Blackman. Her stage presence is commanding and firm, as she leads us through this magical tale.
The production overall is a sensory feast for adult and child alike. If there are any parents looking to bring their children for a memorable theatrical experience it will be to Polka Theatre this Christmas.
Babe, the Sheep-Pig runs at the Polka Theatre until February 5 2017.