Based on Dick King-Smith’s beloved children’s book, the story of bright, polite and ambitious piglet Babe, the Sheep-Pig, is given a creaky but undeniably charming treatment in this new production from Colchester’s Mercury Theatre.
Director Katie Posner fills the show with lively energy, trotting through the already-thin text of David Wood’s 1997 stage adaptation at an impressive clip. Regular bursts of music, composed by Richard Reeday, break up the plot’s simple beats with harmonised bleating, bursts of fiddle and tin whistle and even a rumbling tuba, played live by the committed cast.
Among them, Ebony Feare builds a quick rapport as matriarchal, soon-to-be-devoured ewe Ma, while Heather Phoenix gives a grounded yet humorous turn as farmer’s wife Mrs Hoggett. Jonathan Cobb, meanwhile, brings tremendous gentleness to the titular role, infusing warmth and personality into the puppet piglet he operates.
Sara Perks’ design is appealing and imaginative, packing the stage with texture and detail without making the stage ever feel cluttered. Fluffy woollen clouds hover over felt trees; clumps of yarn stand in for moss.
All the noise and colour help to smooth over the pointed poignancy of a story which deals directly with loss, loneliness, self-doubt and the typical fate of livestock. The first act, particularly, ends with the kind of memorably traumatic cliffhanger common to most great children’s entertainment.
While the odd moment may become too intense for the very young intended audience, the show’s message about the importance of kindness has a timeless resonance.