Friday, 29 November 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Mr. Popper's Penguins - Waterside, Sale. Greater Manchester.

Mr. Popper's Penguins is based on a popular children's book written by Richard and Florence Atwater (which was adapted into a film by Jim Carrey in 2011).Mr Popper’s Penguins was brought to stage at the beautiful Waterside theatre in Sale by Pins And Needles Productions. The show tells a story of a simple man and his wife Mr (Will Kelly) and Mrs Popper (Monica Nash), who live in Proudfoot Avenue in Stillwater. Mr Popper is a painter and decorator who loves everything about the Antarctic and dreams of being an adventurer and visiting far off places. It's when he sends a fan letter to one of his heroes – Admiral Drake (Susanna Jennings) who is on a trek to the South Pole – that he gets sent a gift that catapults his life in a new direction.

A collective gasp in a theatre auditorium is always a nice thing to be part of. But when it comes from a bunch of wide-eyed enthralled young children (especially my two little 7 year old companions), it's something really very special and heart-warming. Tonight this came from the crowd the moment the wooden box sent from Admiral Drake was opened to reveal the astonishing Captain Cook, an Antarctic penguin who soon made himself at home in Mr and Mrs Popper's front room. There he was, puppet penguin in all his glory, and the kids were absolutely (and most adults) delighted.

It was Nick Barnes' puppets that really stole the hearts and adoration of the audience tonight in Emma Earle's show. The two main penguins (Captain Cook and Greta) are absolutely fabulous and are supremely expressive in the hands of puppeteers Benedict Chambers and Susanna Jennings, whose bird squawks are both hilarious and realistic.

The show progresses to the penguins disrupting the couple's lives in the best possible way, turning them from upright, everything-in-its-place type of people, to risk-takers and fun-makers. Eventually they train the penguins and their 8 penguin babies to become a Music Hall act and end up touring the world with their penguin troupe, following their sensational performance at the Palace Theatre that impressed the ambitious Mr Greenbaum.

The cast, in this 60 minute version of Richard and Florence Atwater’s award-winning book, are absolutely outstanding as they smoothly take on many characters throughout the show. The songs are also great and well performed as the cast showcased their phenomenal voices. As with all good musical theatre the songs were catchy and Richy Hughes’ wonderful and cheeky lyrics had my two little companions belly-laughing.

Emma Earle's direction is slick and seamlessly timed keeping tonight’s young audience engaged throughout. Zoe Squire's set design was simple and uncomplicated, with minimal props and staging that proved surprising at times as ice was made from white sheets, and a music hall appeared by the simple switching on of lights.

All in all this was a magical piece of family theatre that had all the right ingredients for children to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of theatrical storytelling. To sum things up in the words from my 7 year old daughter “that was absolutely brilliant mum can we watch it again”. High praise from a hard-to-please 7 year old but she’s right, it was brilliant and worthy of seeing again and again and again.

Reviewer - Victoria Wilmot
on - 28/11/19

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