Gently charming and playing with familiar events to make them extraordinary, the adaptation of the first of Nick Butterworth’s hugely successful Percy’s Park books is a proper theatrical treat for young audiences.
You mess around with well-known books at your peril, but this is one show which knows exactly what it is doing – and where it is going – as it brings to life the story of Percy, the park keeper who ends up with all the animals in the park in his bed, one snowy night.
At its heart is Colin Hurley as Percy. There’s nothing of the mad-nutter parkie about him – as depicted in the pages of the Beano. He’s into sweeping up leaves in the autumn, keeping the swings working in the summer – and making sure he is dressed up cosy for the winter. He likes a nice sandwich for lunch and is happy to watch the birds peck up his crumbs.
All of which are crucial and familiar to children aged between about two and six. If the production takes its time, and goes well beyond the basic details of the familiar tale with catchy songs and dances, it also ensures that it creates a sound basis from which it can tell the real meat of the story.
Suddenly it starts snowing. The two puppeteers Amy Tweed and James Baldwin – who are visible throughout – first turn the park white and then inside out as they expose the inside of Percy’s shed-like home in a simple but imaginative scene change.
It’s the animals which give the play its vitality. As Percy lies snug in bed, they knock at the door, one by one for shelter. Tweed and Baldwin ensure that each has its character – the hopefully curious squirrel, the dim fox, the always arguing rabbits and the gossiping ducks.
There’s plenty of humour in this production, not that it is presented as such, and it allows the audience to really engage with what they are seeing on stage, particularly with each knocking at the door, without entering the realms of pantomime.
An excellent adaptation which is equally a success in its own right.
Run ends tomorrow.