Burglar Bill review at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford – ‘cosy children’s theatre’
You know you’re winning with an early years show when the young children in the audience call out in cheerful, uninvited vociferous recognition of the characters on stage. Based on the 1977 picture book by from Janet and Allan Ahlberg which has achieved iconic status over at least two generations, Burglar Bill stars the nimble, natural Chris Yarnell as Bill, in his inevitable stripy t shirt. He sleeps during the day and burgles at night; in between he does little turns based on some of his loot. One hat leads to a gondolier moment and another to a bit of vaudeville.
Yarnell is an engaging, very physical actor and his sparky work is enhanced by Julian Butler’s jolly music. His foil is Leak Kirby (a pleasing dancer) as Burglar Betty, who begins as the narrator of the story and then becomes a character in it as the plot thickens. Bill finds a baby, and because he’s a good guy at heart, he looks after it – 1970s style, with terrycloth nappies. No prizes for guessing who the baby’s mother turns out to be and what happens at the end.
There’s also a stripy cat – an effective puppet, deftly operated by both actors – but the puppet baby is unnecessarily grotesque. Overall this is a decent 50 minutes of theatre for a young audience that (just about) stops short of glamorising theft.