Do not be fooled into thinking that Babe: The Sheep-Pig is a show just for children. Take them if you must because they will enjoy it and quite possibly remember it for the rest of their lives, but if you are an adult with no children to take just go with a friend. This show is fantastic and suitable for all ages.
That’ll do Pig!
A Sunday afternoon in Wimbledon and the theatre is packed with families at the very special and unique Polka Theatre. Today there is Babe: The Sheep-Pig, play written by David Wood based on the book by Dick King-Smith. It’s a beautiful story with a long lineage. In 1995, Babe the film was released and delighted generations of children worldwide and the stage version Babe, The Sheep-Pig opened in Woking in 1997.
This production looks amazing. The combination of the multitude of design elements that produce Babe: The Sheep-Pig has created a magical world that enthralled the large audience, children and adults alike.
The stage is open as the audience arrives and sheep are delightfully playing around, over and under their pen, centre stage.The lighting design by Jack Knowles artistically highlights the innovative and versatile set from Madeleine Girling. The cast make the set changes in choreographed moments and the field quickly becomes farm-house or whatever else is needed. The changes are seamless, fast and entertaining.
An outstanding feature of the production is the puppetry and mask work. The puppetry director is Matthew Forbes who has worked internationally to enhance work with a focus on puppetry, object manipulation and physical theatre. There are many puppets of all shapes and sizes and all top rate. These were co-designed and made by Max Humphries and Dik Downey.
Babe is a puppet and it’s easy to forget that he has a handler as the characterisation quickly fades the handler into the background. There is a scary moment at the end of act one when a large sheep-worrying puppet commands the stage. The workings of this one are like those of the recent Warhorse productions with the handler visible within the skeleton of the beast. It’s hugely effective.
The ensemble cast of eight all wear half masks; some because they are playing animals and Farmer and Mrs Hoggett. None of the cast in the program have a character attributed to their names and all played several parts. They sing, dance and act with versatility and style.
Farmer Hoggett was suitably reticent and peaceful: a man of few words who makes those few speak volumes: he is played by Oliver Grant. Mrs Hoggett is delightfully the opposite. Fly, the sheep-dog who takes Babe into her family is the epitome of the selfless and generous mother figure. She is played by Nicola Blackman. The herd of sheep are all suitably dippy and very loveable.
Then there’s the music. Barnaby Race has composed music and songs that dance and weave through the show enlightening the mood and the story line. There is a number where the sheep do a jig, there is hauntingly beautiful music to soften the sad moments. Finally, there are triumphant anthems to celebrate the realisation of Babe’s dream to become a sheep-pig.
Michael Fentiman as director has successfully combined the threads of this production to deliver a harmonious and pleasing experience for audiences of any age.