Churchill Theatre, Bromley – Touring
He talks to the animals, sings with the animals, dances with the animals and is now in a musical with the animals. Doctor Dolittle follows the “impossible” man who understands animals better than people so with the help of his parrot Polynesia, learns their languages to help cure all their ailments. After a run-in with the local magistrate, Dolittle escapes prison to go on a mission to find the giant pink sea snail. There’s also a budding romance between Dolittle’s right-hand man, Matthew Mugg and the magistrate’s niece, Emma Fairfax.
This UK tour features book, music and lyrics by original Doctor Dolittle composer Leslie Bricusse who, alongside director Christopher Renshaw has reinvented the story to make it an entertaining show for the entire family.
Mark Williams takes on the title role and does so fairly well. Whilst he speaks most of his songs, he does so with an energy that fits the character. It would be nice to have the role sung more seeing as this is a musical, but Williams’ performance does fit the show well.
It’s the Doctor’s friend Matthew Mugg, played by Patrick Sullivan, who steals the show with his magnetic charm and personality. Matthew is an instantly likeable character who holds the show on his shoulders with charisma. Sullivan also shines vocally with his beautiful tone – it’s just a shame we don’t get to hear a bit more. As Matthew’s love interest, Mollie Melia-Redgrave is excellent and provides great support as Emma Fairfax.
The other stars of the show have to be the intricate puppets designed by Nick Barnes and directed by Jimmy Grimes. A host of animals hop, slide and prowl around the stage, filling the space with liveliness and spirit. Especially memorable are the wonderful seal (Evonnee Bentley-Holder) and dog Jip (Jacob Fisher and Richard Vorster) who, like all the animals, are controlled masterfully by the ensemble. Vicky Entwistle also gives a lovely performance as Polynesia and cleverly disguises herself with the puppet to make us forget she’s even there which really brings a hint of magic.
Tom Piper’s set is very simplistic and at first comes across as amateurish but as the show continues it becomes Very fitting and works well to create the storybook like atmosphere. However, the sets being a little larger and more vibrant would add a lot to the show, as would some more inspired lighting. At times it feels like there is an inconsistency with the show. Whilst the basic sets and beige costumes are, I assume, supposed to leave space to highlight the puppets, they instead feel too rushed and cheap compared to the puppets which are so bright and detailed.
This isn’t a masterpiece of a show but it is a whole lot of fun for families. Act two is certainly aimed at children but does have some magical moments of choreography (Josh Rhodes) as well as a star feature from the giant pink snail which fills the stage and seems to wow many of the younger audience. For a fun night out and a reminder of why we should protect and love animals, go see Doctor Dolittle but don’t expect a monumental show.
photo credit: Alistair Muir