Beatrix Potter’s Jemima Puddle-Duck and her Friends review at Unicorn London
The Unicorn’s reinvention of four of Beatrix Potter’s best loved tales as a mini-musical manages to be faithful to the original books almost to the letter while injecting an irresistible physicality and playfulness that makes them seem made for the stage.
Tony Graham’s lively production is full of inventive touches, from a stuffed-glove spider that comes down on a piece of string to rubber bands that become wiggly worms and wood blocks that turn from instruments into pigs’ hooves.
The production does away with animal costumes and instead dresses the whole cast of actor-musicians as 1930s school children play-acting in the classroom, with just slight alterations of clothing to suggest the different animals. Jemima Puddle-Duck dons a floaty white dress with a particularly large bustle that waddles while she walks, the foxy gentleman may have pointy ears and a duster held up behind him to suggest a tail, but is in all other ways just a country gent.
The effect is that the skill and inventiveness of the energetic cast shines through, whether it’s Rhiannon Meades as Squirrel Nutkin chattering over-excitedly in the trees or Neil Gore as Jeremy Fisher making lolloping frog leaps.
Stephen McNeff’s catchy, Stravinsky-inspired score successfully weaves the four stories together, while Zara Plessard’s rather too school-matronly Beatrix Potter acts as the lynchpin of the musical, introducing the characters as old friends, just as the author does in the books themselves, and keeping the young audience involved by asking them questions about the stories.
The use of a fore stage brings the action right down into the audience itself, while trap doors turn the main stage into a warren of tunnels and passages fit for The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, providing “he’s behind you” moments as kittens appear and disappear to the distress of their mother, Tabitha Twitchit, played as a panto dame in the last and most successful tale in the production.
Unicorn, London, February 9-April 22
- Adrian Mitchell, from Beatrix Potter
- Tony Graham
- Unicorn Theatre
- Cast includes
- Pete Ashmore, Amanda Gordon, Neil Gore, Francesca Loren, Rhiannon Meades, Ako Mitchell, Zara Plessard
- Running time