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‘The main joy is in the puppetry’: WHERE IS PETER RABBIT? – West End ★★★★

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Theatre Royal Haymarket, London – until 28 April 2019

The Haymarket these spring mornings is dense with toddlers and their attendants (I’d say  by the look of it 20% parents, 50% grandparents, and the rest nannies and millennial siblings/aunts). They are all emerging dead pleased from the Theatre Royal, and what more glamorous for your first theatre than those gilded splendours? One near me was gazing spellbound at the ceiling before the action started, and actually paid less attention to the show throughout than admiring the decor. But most were rapt, and indeed my one grudge against the Old Laundry’s loving Beatrix Potter production – first aired three years ago – is that they waited till my youngest toddler was 31.

With Steven Edis music and some Ayckbourn lyrics, it is a thousand sweet miles from the ghastly film (Potter was right, in her lifetime, to turn down Disney). The set is perfect. There are make-it-at-home flats and simple props (under-fives need it simple enough to put on their own show back home) but also with an arch with changing Potter scenes projected like a living book. Joanna Brown as the author introduces  a series of tales for a simple hour, assisted by the dim but benevolent Mrs Puddleduck; we hardly need the celebrity recorded voices of Griff and Miriam.

The main joy is in the puppetry, led by Caroline Dalton and performed by puppeteer-actors, with notable characterisation by Samuel Knight as Jeremy Fisher and Tommy Brock. The pleasure is in their meticulously witty detail as they invigorate the the very faithfully-Potter creatures. Great synchro beakwork from both ducks and top hopping from Jeremy Fisher (a gasp all round when the big trout threatens).

The production takes the trouble to create a menacing offstage squeak from Mr MacGregor’s wheelbarrow (another gasp) and to make sure Mrs Tiggywinkle’s nose does indeed go sniffle-sniffle-snuffle. But a particular bouquet, please, for the way disgusting old Tommy Brock searches his bum. That’s my second classy-badger encomium in two days (having just seen In The Willows!).

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.
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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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