At first the two hares – Big and Little Nutbrown – are simply rod and glove puppets. Then they bound on stage, larger than life. Animal costumes don’t always work; these designed by Susie Caulcott do. The fur is thick and the masks blend animal realism with enough of the human face underneath to reassure children perhaps not yet accustomed to theatre’s own approximations to actuality. Abbey Norman is the lively little hare, with Paul Sockett as the more sensible big hare.
It’s all much more fun than simply an all-the-year-round natural history lesson as a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, a tadpole grows up into a frog, bees buzz round in search of honey, a stream ripples and flowers bloom in their season. The music encourages singalong with much hand-gesturing and foot-stamping – I did wonder at one point if the 200-year old fabric of the Theatre Royal would stand the strain.
The show’s length is just right for its target age group. There’s no compromise on production values with enough clever lighting and scenery effects as well as shifts of action from dialogue exchanges to song and dance to keep adult as well as child attention. The hares echo the anthropomorphic characters of the books closely enough to create just the right level of make-believe.