Reviewed by Ann Durrell
Mr Popper’s Penguins has been adapted for the stage by Pins and Needles Productions who also brought Raymond Bigg’s The Bear and Father Christmas to the Waterside. The production is fresh from successful season in New York and London’s West End. The show is based on the 1930’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater (later made into a film starring Jim Carey).
Mr Popper the painter and decorator is bored, he’s living in Stillwater, England, the town he grew up in but spends his day fantasising. Paint colours lead him to imagine, green and he is in the jungle with parrots and monkeys, grey and he’s scaling mountains, but white, that’s his favourite, white and he is an arctic explorer in the south pole surrounded by penguins. Mr Popper and his wife are leading an ordinary suburban life, that is until one day he receives a parcel from Admiral Drake, a penguin. How will a penguin find life in the burbs? Where will he sleep? Will the goldfish be safe? Will he be lonely?
With a cast of 4 the production is flawless; Will Drake as Mr Popper and Monica Nash as Mrs Popper do a sterling job. Whilst Benedict Chambers is Captain Cook’s handler and Susanna Jennings looks after Greta. The cast all transform into other characters throughout and each have turns looking after the penguins. Timing and choreography are on point, I always believe that making something appear chaotic is often harder work.
The staging designed by Zoe Squires is simple yet effective, easily transformable by the on-stage team. The stars of the show of course are the penguins, Captain Cook and his companion Greta. The puppets are cute and endearing from the moment they come on stage. Nipping at bottoms and getting up to mischief, what more could you want from your feathered friends. The puppeteer is excellent you really feel that each has their own character and you warm to them immediately, when the little ones arrive you almost want to scoop them up and take them home with you.
Mr Popper’s Penguins is more than just a theatre show, there are also some really catchy songs with music by Luke Bateman and lyrics by Richy Hughes. The score is totally toe tapping with lovely heartfelt lyrics. It includes a crafty nod to Grease The Musical, come on though, how could anyone write a song about chills without getting a little Travolta in there?
If your new found obsession with penguins has you wondering what life would be like, don’t worry. At the end of Mr Popper, you will get a chance to release your inner penguin, I challenge you not to join in!
The Waterside is a great venue, what I thought was a lovely touch is for the 6pm shows kids can come in their pyjamas and you can book milk and cookie option. At just an hour it’s an ideal length for younger children, an enjoyable introduction to the theatre.
I asked my 5-year-old what was the best bit of Mr Popper? His reply was ‘all of it’ and I would totally agree. A heart-warming feel good family show! My only issue now is how to explain to a small child that unfortunately Santa will not be able to bring a real-life penguin for Christmas, sadly our fridge just isn’t big enough.
Tickets cost from £12.50 to £16.50 (booking fees may apply).
Mr Popper’s Penguins is at the Waterside in Sale from 27 November to 31 December 2019, for more information or to book tickets visit www.watersidearts.org or call the box office on 0161 912 5616.
Waterside, 1 Waterside Plaza, Sale, M33 7ZF | 0161 912 5616