There were only 13 short episodes of Bagpuss on children’s television in 1974, but the pink, stripy moggy and friends in Emily’s shop have remained firm favourites through repeat showings and commercial exploitation. Now Bagpuss (“live on stage”) must surely be a prequel to “Bagpuss, the Musical” and a Hollywood franchise.
Or maybe not. Though Jonathan Lloyd’s adaptation, using three of the stories, is a little saggy and baggy, rather like the fat furry cat-puss himself, it recreates exactly the tone of winsome, unpretentious charm of Olivier Postgate and Peter Firmin’s creation, the shop coming to life with an older and younger Emily (Georgina Sowerby and Susan Harrison) manipulating the inanimate dolls and doing all the voices, and the songs, pretty well.
Suzanne Gorman’s production, co-presented with the Birmingham Stage Company, is reverently and accurately designed by Jackie Trousdale; it even starts with the BBC voice-over and old sepia photographs before depositing us in the shop where nothing is sold, but where lost items – a pin cushion, a ballet pump, a cotton wool house – are restored and put in the window complete with their background stories.
The stage becomes a vividly populated nursery, and the other inhabitants – Madeleine the rag doll, Professor Yaffle the woodpecker, Gabriel the toad, and the mice on the pipe organ – all appear exactly as we remember them. The weakness is a lack of coordinated drive and a nearly disastrous loss of pace in the last 15 (of 60) minutes. But this is otherwise ideal for Bagpuss devotees, parents and three year-olds alike.