Babe, the Sheep-Pig at the Polka Theatre
More than three decades after Dick King-Smith’s beloved book was published and two since it was adapted into a successful film, the Polka Theatre has brought the story of Babe, the Sheep-Pig to the stage. The polite little piglet who learns to herd sheep on a farm is a character many will know, and here his tale is faithfully retold. This is a children’s play but it is comical and innovative enough for parents to enjoy too.
The show benefits from a strong aesthetic. Set and costume designer Madeleine Girling has kitted out all her characters elaborately, including slightly cartoonish masks for the two human characters, farmer Hogget and his wife. Alongside them are a host of wonderfully inventive puppets: a family of ducks dash about on wheels; a cat comprised of separate torso and feet is operated fluidly by two puppeteers; a vicious wolf with flashing eyes is animated via full-body internal operation. Then, of course, there is Babe himself, an adorable puppet with moving limbs, mouth and even eyelids. Deftly handled and earnestly voiced, he makes for a charismatic protagonist.
Consistently funny, much of the show’s humour comes from the herd of sheep, which almost always occupies the stage. The actors have dim-witted skittishness and aimlessness down to a fine art. Nicola Blackman has a reassuring presence as old sheepdog Fly, Babe’s adopted mum. Emma Barclay and Ben Ingles make a great pair as Mr and Mrs Hogget, she shrill and excitable, he silent and gentle. Both sport pleasingly broad Somerset accents.
A stand-out feature of the production is its original music by composer Baranby Race. It’s chock-full of rousing songs with catchy melodies, often featuring turns from a live fiddler. One such song uses the lyrics “Yan Tan Tethera”, the old Northern English sheep-counting system, which creates a strong, bouncy rhythm. Audiences are not allowed to simply watch, though: they are asked to join in by helping Babe recall a poem (“You may be ewe, you may be ram, may be mutton, may be lamb”).
Parents who haven’t yet visited the Polka Theatre, which is dedicated to producing theatre for 0-14 year-olds, take note: this is the perfect time to treat the littl’uns to a show.
Babe, the Sheep-Pig is at the Polka Theatre from 25th November 2016 until 5th February 2017, for further information or to book visit here.