Review - Where is Peter Rabbit? at the Theatre Royal Haymarket
Even though the tales of Beatrix Potter are over a century old, their continued ability to draw children into the imaginary world of Peter Rabbit and his friends still holds today. First performed at the Old Laundry Theatre at the World of Beatrix Potter in 2016, the stories leap from the glossy pages to London's theatre scene in a West End first at Where is Peter Rabbit?. Celebrating the author and her original characters during the 60-minute musical adaptation, it's a nostalgic show oozing with charm where audience members of all ages leave with a beaming smile.
Welcomed into Beatrix Potter's literary world by the author herself played by Joanna Brown (whose first appearance was greeted by an excitable child shouting: "that's Mary Poppins!"), the stage begins to come alive with the recognisable characters from the stories. From Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle to Mr. Tod, animals are expertly anthropomorphised through puppets by a cast of five, whose control over the puppets while adding individual quirks draw out every part of the characters entertaining adults and children alike. With a set by Roger Glossop drawn in a similar vein to Potter's illustrative style, the page-turner jumps on to the stage with an infectious energy in every way possible.
As the short stories are presented one-by-one, children get to see the tales of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Mr.Tod told on stage, but it's the portrayals of Mr. McGregor (Matthew Whitby) and Jemima Puddle-Duck (Grace Osborn) that really jump off the page. Leading two of the show's original songs penned by Steven Edis and lyrics by Alan Ayckbourn, their songs would be well-placed as a show-stopping number or a heartfelt ballad in a full-length West End musical.
Precise choreography by Sheila Carter helped bring the scenes to life in a way that lends better to the productions than the words could have ever been imagined. If the tales of Peter Rabbit could be adapted to show what the "Golden Age" of musical theatre would like in the early twentieth-century, Where is Peter Rabbit ? would be the exemplary production.
Voice-overs by Miriam Margolyes narrating the stories of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle and Jemima Puddle-Duck and Griff Rhys-Jones lending his voice to tales of Peter Rabbit and Jeremy Fisher add to the musical adventure, which can occasionally take a darker turn. But, comedic characterisations by on-stage cast members adding moments of light relief shared around the auditorium to the sound of young giggles.
Ending with the company singing and the audience clapping along, it's obvious that the stories of Beatrix Potter are as loved today as they were when first told in the early 1900s. Now bookmarked into the history of the West End's pages, the show is a wholesome bundle of joy, neatly tied with vibrant costumes, puppets and music to create a comforting musical package that Beatrix Potter herself would have been proud of.
Where is Peter Rabbit? tickets are available now.
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