Babe, the Sheep-Pig review at Polka Theatre, London – ‘Gorgeous-looking but lacks clarity’
This new production of playwright David Wood’s adaptation of Dick King-Smith’s much-loved children’s story, Babe the Sheep-Pig, gets a lot right.
Director Michael Fentiman (returning to Polka Theatre after 2014’s Minotaur) imbues King-Smith’s tale of farmyard community with a lovely sense of timelessness. Jack Knowles’ lighting and George Dennis’ sound design resist countryside tweeness in favour of evoking age-old traditions.
This staging also benefits from the combined creative muscle of puppet co-designers Max Humphries and Dik Downey, who – aided by puppet director Matthew Forbes – turn a hand-operated Babe into a character for kids to root for.
Elsewhere, a red-eyed, feral, sheep-stalking dog – a spindly, metallic creation that is part-costume, part-puppet – is a nightmarish creation. It ably reinforces the fact that, while Babe’s world may often be kind, it isn’t gentle.
But where this production falters is in its clarity. The ensemble cast – whose collective pedigree includes War Horse – is excellent, but fiddly choreography loses sight of the sheep-trialling, which is a tricky idea to convey to a very young audience.
And having the cast members stay in their sheep costumes while chucking on floppy ears or hats to play other roles is only varyingly effective. This, coupled with indistinct lyrics in the songs, means the storytelling tends to slip from evocative to fuzzy.
However, the uplifting role of Babe’s kindness in King-Smith’s story comes across loud and clear. His refusal to dismiss the sheep as idiots wins the day. And there’s warmth and heart in this often visually lush tale of the pig in dog’s clothing.