REVIEW: WHERE IS PETER RABBIT? (Theatre Royal Haymarket) ★★★★

On a rainy and grey afternoon I was delighted to take my 5 year old niece Amy to watch this magical interpretation of some of the best loved characters from the world of one of our most celebrated children’s authors, Beatrix Potter-conceived over 100 years ago.

As a child I read all 24 of her tales of animals from the British countryside and I am pleased to say that my niece, along with the other children in attendance, seemed as enamoured as I, with their stories.

A young and talented ensemble gave spirited performances, with a beautiful score by Steven Edis and sublime lyrics by Sir Alan Ayckbourn.The story telling with the voices of Miriam Margolyes and Griff Rhys Jones was captivating and lifted the creatures off of the page as we were introduced to their lives.

While other animals were introduced, this hour long musical adventure was based on five of her books main characters, lovingly brought to life with some of the best puppetry I have seen, along the lines of The Lion King with regard to the nuances and suspension of disbelief where you almost forgot the existence of the humans onstage who were operating these beautifully realised puppets.

The set was magical, and the singing strong, though the balance of the soundtrack at times meant it was harder to hear the vocals, at the beginning in particular.

My niece and I particularly enjoyed Grace Osborn’s performance as Jemima Puddleduck (both vocally and for her characterisation) and we both laughed heartily at the performance of Matthew Whitby as the villain of the piece Mr McGregor in his thwarted attempts to catch Peter Rabbit and salvage his vegetables.

A highlight was when the cast as an ensemble all portrayed Mr McGregor, so proud of his crop with us in the knowledge that the rabbits, and Peter in particular, would best him in the end.

The whole cast multi-roled and there wasn’t a weak link. My one criticism would be that as the puppets are so well realised (even down to the snuffle of Mrs Tiggywinkle’s nose) there was one point where the narration by Joanna Brown as Beatrix Potter went on too long without the presence of characters onstage and smaller children got bored when then animals were not re-enacting the tale. This is not a criticism of her story telling, which was lovely, but puppetry alongside such lengthy passages would not have gone amiss.

Overall I thought it was a rather lovely way to spend an hour, for both nostalgic adults and children alike, and it is well worth getting a glossy programme for the slew of information on the fascinating history and timeline of Beatrix Potter and how she went about becoming one of the greatest children’s authors and illustrators of all time. The passion of the creatives and cast for the piece and faithfulness to her original characterisation is clearly evident and I would highly recommend a lunchtime of escapism.

Reviewed by Nicole Faraday

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