The UK tour of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is wowing family audiences all over the country with its dazzling, elaborate effects and big budget set. Theatre Alibi's beautiful adaptation of Dick King-Smith's classic book, The Crowstarver is filled with awe and wonder, but there’s no smoke and mirrors here, just pure emotion.
Spider Sparrow is found abandoned in a lambing pen with a note pinned to his shawl which says "please save this lamb". He’s duly adopted by a shepherd and his wife, but it soon becomes clear that Spider isn’t like other children. He has a wonderful way with animals and, once able to walk, develops spider-like movements (hence his name). The locals adore him as he manages to tame a wild bucking bronco horse-whisperer style, and wherever he goes, he attracts animals.
When the school refuses to accept the young lad, his gift becomes ever stronger. His parents put this talent to good use, and he gains a job scaring the crows on the farm. This newfound responsibility enables Spider to partially forget about the prejudice he’s confronted with and his worsening health.
This lush and dreamily performed production grabs you from the very first scene. The book, like King-Smith's much loved Babe, has messages throughout for children about equality. But there’s much for adults to enjoy rather than endure here too. Meg Surrey's ramp-style set has a cavern of hidden surprises with all sorts of weird and wonderful characters appearing from beneath the trap doors.
The poignancy of the book is lovingly portrayed via the excellent performances, played out to moving live music. As Spider, Tom Wainwright is absolutely superb. During one bullying scene, his sobbing off stage is so affecting that you can hear the audience stifling their own whimpers. The whole cast though are wonderful, playing a multitude of human and animal parts as well as doing a spot of puppetry.
The little ones present on the night I attended sniffled through the heart-breaking dénouement - as did I! This truly is faultless theatre and, unlike many children’s productions, adults will not feel patronised. The Crowstarver is moving, highly original and, in the words of the loveable Spider himself, a “Good Un!” Do not miss it!
- Glenn Meads (reviewed at The Lowry, Salford Quays)