Northern Broadsides, with an outstanding reputation for hard-hitting versions of Shakespeare, has gradually diversified with expressionist productions of European classics ancient and modern and, in the last couple of years, with inventive and gloriously silly children’s plays from the team of Andrew Pollard (writer) and Adam Sutherland (director).
Heidi: A Goat’s Tale, now embarking on a tour that includes a four-week pre-Christmas run at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, comes at Johanna Spyri’s story from an angle. Four bored and penned up goats, clearly of Pennine rather than Alpine origin, begin chewing the pages of their youthful goatherd’s book and find themselves telling the story of Heidi. Young Pip is co-opted as Heidi as they act out the story of the little girl who lives in the mountains with her grandfather, her goats and her friend Peter until her aunt takes her to the city of Frankfurt to act as companion to the sickly Clara. Heidi pines for the mountains, but will she be able to return?
The precision of the production is concealed beneath a disarming air of improvisation. The props are created from farm implements and domestic utensils, the goat costumes (designer Dawn Outhwaite) are triumphs of the knitter’s art and Clara is convincingly and touchingly brought to life as a do-it-yourself puppet in a duffel coat. The music is provided by the cast members with casual aplomb, the effective wordless a cappella incidental music and a couple of very jolly songs being composed by Rebekah Hughes – incidentally, this must be the first time that “All Things Bright and Beautiful” has been sung (very nicely, too) to the accompaniment of a bouncing tyre, a bumping door and a bleating goat!
Ms. Hughes is also one of an energetic and talented quartet of goats, switching from demented bleating and mangling of the English language to Radio Four story-teller’s accents and dipping zestfully in and out of assorted roles. Gareth Cassidy is very funny as the appealingly immature film (or “flim”) buff who constantly tries to turn Peter into a superhero, Clara Darcy is the bossiest of aunts as well as putting over the starring number in style (Carmen Miranda and all) and CP Hallam brings Man o’ t’ Dales experience to the pipe-sucking grandfather. Siena Lloyd’s independent, no-nonsense Pip is a perfect counterbalance to the caprine capers.
Heidi: A Goat’s Tale is officially aimed at audiences of five years-old plus, but there’s no upper limit and the appeal of its knowing innocence and inspired silliness is never age-specific.