Northern Broadsides’ successful production of Heidi
is revived this Christmas in Huddersfield, with my first impression a
concern that its impact might be reduced in the more orthodox
configuration of the Lawrence Batley Theatre. The cast of goats has less
opportunity to run free and chew up patrons’ belongings than in the
depths of Dean Clough. Such misgivings proved short-lived.
Andrew Pollard’s inspired take on Johanna Spyri’s alpine classic
involves a group of rebellious Yorkshire goats who eat (as goats will)
the pages of Heidi, the favourite book of their young
minder Pip. Thereafter they regurgitate chunks of narrative (in
impeccable standard English) in between acting out the story in
goat-speak with much silliness and ingeniously improvised props and
sound effects. The result is a very true, though simplified, version of
the story combined with hilariously chaotic moments: after all, goats
will be goats.
Tether (CP Hallam), the oldest goat, is the most reluctant actor, but
surprisingly is soon hamming it up as a bullying housekeeper. Tan
(Heather Pheonix) has claims to an “elucation” whereas Mether
(Rebekah Hughes) has more of a musical bent and is allowed to compose
the a cappella songs and wordless backing music. Yan (Gareth Cassidy)
has the most fun of all because he’s convinced he’s a super-hero and
keeps trying to hi-jack the Heidi story for a horror film or a tale of
derring-do. Pip (Siena Lloyd) is a very serious girl, but prepared to
play along – and she knows how the story ends!
Adam Sunderland’s production in Dawn Outhwaite’s designs is a
consistent delight for all ages and, amidst the silliness, can be
genuinely moving, as with Clara, Heidi’s invalid friend, created out of
items of clothing manipulated by the cast.