While Beatrix Potter’s anthropomorphic tales have been adapted innumerable times, most versions struggle to replicate the unique charm of the original books.
This musical incarnation, devised by Roger Glossop in 2016 to mark the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth, is a case in point. It plays it pretty straight. The stories are told using Potter’s own words and the songs feature fittingly old-fashioned lyrics by Alan Ayckbourn. It’s the polar opposite of the trashy travesty that was the recent animation starring James Corden.
The trouble is, all this reverence doesn’t make for scintillating entertainment. The puppets are fun and the songs are jolly, but the characters fail to fly. The best known ones are present and correct; Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mr Tod, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Jeremy Fisher and of course Peter himself (who initially fails to show when Potter loses her drawing of him, hence the title). But it’s difficult to get a handle on each individual story; the parts are diminished by the sum.
Sheila Carter’s production certainly has its moments, including some welcome surrealism when all the cast members don Mr McGregor masks and sing an ode to vegetables. And it’s nice to hear the familiar tones of Griff Rhys Jones and Miriam Margolyes, albeit in recorded form.
But for all its nostalgic charm, the production commits a sin more cardinal than even Corden and co managed – it’s boring. And considering that, for many children, this will be their introduction to Beatrix Potter’s work, that seems a crying shame.