All Creatures Great and Small

June 17, 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩    Wise and wonderful

King’s Theatre  Mon 16 – Sat 21 June 2014

The dales are alive with the sound of animals. We don’t see ’em on the stage of the King’s Theatre, though.

Clare Buckfield and Oliver Mellor in All Creatures Great and Small. Photo: Darren Bell

Clare Buckfield and Oliver Mellor. Photo: Darren Bell

Whether it’s down to the old ‘never work with children or animals’ edict, or health and safety rules, this stage version of James Herriot’s tales of a 1930s Yorkshire vet offers no real-life pigs, cows, horses, hens or ducks.

And it doesn’t matter one bit. Because what this show has is a smart script, a clever production and bucketloads of heart. From the moment the newly qualified James is seen struggling with some massive beast – heard, but hidden behind a door – the show grips with the gentlest of jaws. There’s nothing to scare the horses, but plenty to entertain all-age audiences.

The central characters in Simon Stallworthy’s script are true to those loved by millions during the BBC’s long run of All Creatures Great and Small. Oliver Mellor’s James is an enthusiastic puppy of a man, eager to please but not without grit. Lee Latchford-Evans – you may know him from the popular beat combo Steps – gives fellow vet Tristan the requisite charm and mischief. Clare Buckfield, all grown-up from her 2point4 Children days, is Helen, self-assured and sweet. And while I knew former Blue Peter presenter Mark Curry has done a fair bit of acting, his Siegfried is a revelation – mercurial, funny, the backbone of the show.

Curry’s own pet Charlie is the only real creature in the production, and he’s a cutie as Tricky Woo, the dog whose health is suffering due to the literal spoiling of his owner, Mrs Pumphrey. As the rich old lady, Susan Penhaligon shows she can do touching subtlety as deftly as a broad comic turn.

“the very definition of quickfire…”

The hugely impressive Harriett Hare, Rob Maloney and Michael Palmer essay a flock of farmers and country lasses – the trio are the very definition of quickfire, slipping from one character to another with indecent haste.

Getting to the bottom of the problem... Photo credit: Darren Bell

Getting to the bottom of the problem… Photo credit: Darren Bell

Pace is something this Bill Kenwright production, directed by Tim Welton, has in abundance. Simon Scullion’s extremely adaptable set – here a vet’s practice, there a farmyard, everywhere a field – allows characters to step from one scene to another without scene changes to slow down the action. Backstage, it’s likely a nightmare, but all the audience sees is a calm, cracking cast conveying universal stories with skill and wit.

The main threads are James’s quiet battle for acceptance in the Yorkshire village of Darrowby and his courtship of local farmgirl Helen. When he’s not driving James mad, senior vet Siegfried provides lessons in life. Tristan, meanwhile, chases the local girls while hiding his rubbish exam results from his big brother.

And all the while, the three vets are treating animals in the most humane of ways. One of the finest scenes focuses on an elderly man saying goodbye to his poorly pooch, and the sensitive playing of Mellor and Palmer led to more than a few sniffles around the theatre.

The only off-note comes from the inclusion of a radio broadcast in the months leading up to the outbreak of the Second World War; Siegfried notes that dark days lie ahead, but after that it’s bucolic business as usual and don’t mention the war. It’s a real headscratcher, and cutting the question-begging moment could only help the play.

Dan Samson’s sound design deserves praise for doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to making the invisible animals real for the audience. It’s a nicely theatrical solution to what could be a big problem.

Whether or not you’re a fan of previous novel, film or TV incarnations – and I’d missed them all – I can heartily recommended this show. It’s pacy, inventive, superbly played and just the right side of cosy.

Running time 2 hours 15 minutes (including interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Monday 16 – Saturday 21 June 2014
Evenings 7:30pm; Matinees Wed and Sat 2:30pm
Tickets from: www.edtheatres.com/allcreatures

All Creatures Great and Small on tour:
16-21 June 2014 Edinburgh
Kings Theatre
0131 529 6000 Book online
23-28 June Guildford
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
01483 44 00 00 Book online
30 June-05 July Cambridge
Arts Theatre
01223 503 333 Book online
7-12 July Truro
Hall for Cornwall
01872 262466 Book online
14-19 July Eastbourne
Devonshire Park
01323 412000 Book online

ENDS

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