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Review: Babe the Sheep-Pig (Polka Theatre)

Dick King-Smith's children's novel is adapted for the stage by David Wood

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Why can't pigs do what sheep dogs do? Dick King-Smith's beautiful 1983 children's book is a lovely reminder that, if you put your mind to it, anything is possible. It also looks at how prejudice, rudeness and society's labels hold you back.

If that sounds like a hefty message for a book aimed at kids under ten, it is treated with feather-like delicacy and humour in King-Smith's story. Set mostly on Mr Hoggett's farmyard, The Sheep-Pig introduces us to little porker Babe, who, after being won by Hoggett in a guess the weight competition, is taken under the wing of the farm's old sheep dog Fly. Babe the pig grows up with Fly's puppies and wants to learn the family trade. It's only when Babe begins to sweet-talk the sheep – the only animal to treat the fluffy bleaters with politeness and respect – that the dogs, and farmer Hoggett, realise that this little pig is something special.

David Wood's new stage adaptation goes big on cute, especially with the sheep. A cast of eight play all the characters, dipping in and out of pens and transforming from man to animal seamlessly. It's Max Humphries and Dik Downey's puppets that make these transitions so smooth. They mix a DIY aesthetic with detailed face masks and they are bewitching.

Unfortunately, for a show aimed at young'uns who perhaps won't be hugely familiar with the tale, it's a little hard to follow at the beginning. It starts with a flash forward and it's a little unfair to expect kids to pick up the plot points, especially when Wood's adaptation begins with songs, rather than story.

Still, once the narrative does get going, it is so lovely, filled as it is with admirable morals which highlight the need for communication and acceptance. At the heart is a little pig – one of Humphries and Downey's puppets – who is as innocent and as charming as they come. The cast both sing and play and Barnaby Race's songs are catchy and fun.

Babe the Sheep-Pig is a little long, but when faced with such four-legged fluffy, kookiness (in the form of the sheep) – which repeatedly set the whole audience giggling riotously - it's hard for your heart not to melt. Believe, it says, and who knows what could happen: pigs might actually fly.

Babe the Sheep-Pig runs at Polka Theatre until 5 February and then tours.

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