Janys Chambers’ adaptation weaves the poetic, wide-eyed prose of Gerald Durrell’s childhood memoir into a charming and fun play. Truby is a pithy narrator, evoking the insatiable curiosity of childhood with a genuinely sweet innocence. But this is truly a group effort: bickering brothers Larry (Jonathan Race) and Leslie (Stephen Billington) create a consistently humorous dynamic while sister Margo (Emily Pithon) is always on hand to provide daft mixed metaphors for any occasion. The wider ensemble also prove invaluable to the production, with the versatility of Simon Yadoo generating laughs in a variety of roles from a buffoonish tutor to an awful Turkish boyfriend.
However, as Gerry would surely agree, the animals are the stars of the show. Roger the dog is played delightfully by Michael Lambourne, who lollops about the stage with an infectiously endearing sense of adventure. Other more exotic pets such as Achilles the tortoise and Ulysses the owl are brought to life through puppetry, further adding to the childlike sense of wonder created by the piece.
Not everything hangs together as well as it could do: the songs of Christopher Madin’s soundtrack feel out of place among the subtler music underscoring the majority of the production. As the play concludes there is an attempt to encompass the sadness of the end of childhood, but this is not sufficiently developed. To an extent, it feels as if the audience has sat through an evening of other people’s holiday snaps; despite the journey to Greece and the exploration of the island’s beauty, it does not feel like an emotional distance has been travelled. Nevertheless, it is a pleasant diversion of an evening, and families will find this a very enjoyable show.