Touring – reviewed at The Lowry, Salford
Over 50 years since the release of the original 1967 film starring Rex Harrison, Leslie Bricusse’s Doctor Dolittle The Musical receives a major new revival stage revival.
Inspired by Hugh Lofting’s children’s stories, it tells the fantastical tale of a man who, thanks to his trusty companion Polynesia the Parrot, learns to communicate with animals. Learning the language of various beasts – big and small – he becomes their advocate, relieving them of their ailments and worries. The story takes an exciting turn when Dolittle receives a coded call for help and sets out on an extraordinary quest to Sea Star Island to find the Giant Pink Sea Snail.
Pleasingly and most admirably, Bricusse has spent some time bringing this vibrant revival up to speed for a modern audience. With the addition of some new songs, there is also more of a focus placed on the animal’s wellbeing and the responsibility that we have, as humans, in protecting and caring for them.
Now, this is a production which is completely crafted out of love. The design by Tom Piper is playfully paper-like in a homage to Lofting’s original writings and illustrations. The original stories came about from letters which Lofting penned for his children from the trenches of the First World War. It’s heartwarming to see that tales like these really do stand the test of time.
The cast is led by Mark Williams in the title role. Williams is hugely endearing as the animal-loving Doctor; Vicky Entwistle has plenty of Northern charm and charisma as Polynesia. Mollie Melia-Redgrave shines as Emma Fairfax with some touching moments between her and love-interest Matthew Mugg, also played well by Patrick Sullivan.
The puppetry by Nick Barnes is a real highlight, matching that of War Horse in its detail, quality and charming design. There is a myriad of animals on show here – from smaller creatures like birds, cats and dogs to the spectacular Giant Pink Sea Snail and the equally entertaining Pushmi-Pullyu. Each animal moves in its own unique way due to the superb design and talent of each handler as they bring the puppets to life. The reveal of the Giant Lunar Moth and the Giant Pink Sea Snail were awe-inspiring, the audience wowed on the night that I attended.
Advertised as a family show, Doctor Dolittle runs at around two and a half hours long which may be just a little too long for some younger children. The show may benefit from some tightening – I attended with an 8-year-old who got slightly restless during some of the musical numbers. Nevertheless, Doctor Dolittle is a show with a big heart, outstanding production and design, and take-your-breath-away puppetry.
– Kristy Stott
Doctor Dolittle runs at The Lowry Theatre, Salford until Saturday 5th January 2019.
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