The designer Charlie Cridlan echoes Quentin Blake’s pen-and-ink with watercolour illustrations for the book as far as the setting and the two puppets – the dog Duchess, the cat Elizabeth and Chloe’s spoilt brat of a younger sister Annabelle – are concerned, but the other characters are realistic in costume and fully convince as persons.
Two full hours is quite lengthy for a children’s show, but the young audience remained completely engrossed in the stage happenings throughout. Peter Edbrook is very good as the tramp befriended by Lotte Gilmore’s Chloe. Gilmore is moving as she gradually reveals her unhappiness at school and the way she feels sidelined at home.
That place, of course, is dominated by social-climbing Mrs Crumb (pronounced Croome). Julia J Nagle flings out top notes like a frustrated Queen of the Night and the audience loved it when she had her comeuppance on television. Mark Peachey is a sympathetic Mr Crumb and manipulates Duchess to canine perfection. Irvine Igbal switches effortlessly between shopkeeper Raj and the Prime Minister, grasping just a little too eagerly at every photo-opportunity.
There’s a catchy score by Matt Brind which gives the children plenty of singalong moments. I suspect that the adults enjoyed it just as much as the youngsters, obeying Duchess’ instructions to scratch’n’sniff with a palpable sense of being more than just the escorting part of the experience. There’s a serious lesson embedded in this story, of course, but it’s handled subtly. A book and a play for all generations, I feel.