“Are we really going to see a show about a pig that wants to be a sheepdog?” My 4-year-old asks me. Followed by “What does a sheepdog do Mummy?”
Well, if she doesn’t know that then I guess describing a pig trying to herd sheep may not actually sound that strange!
I am, however, at 37, knowledgeable in the role of a sheepdog and a big fan of the original 1995, Dick King-Smith film, Babe. Therefore, I had quite high expectations of this stage adaptation by David Wood.
As we walk into the theatre we are greeted by 4 sheep on stage, (people in fluffy costumes). And they are just, ‘being sheep’, bleating, chewing & interacting. This is such a lovely touch, my daughter thought it was really funny. Great start!
We begin at the sheepdog trials and then swiftly into a flashback on how we arrived there. Which I’m not sure was necessary, it’s a concept that just wouldn’t be understood by young children and the audience was young, mostly under 10.
So, we meet Farmer Hogget who wins a piglet in a ‘guess the weight’ competition at the local fair. Here enters the star of our show, Babe. Played as a puppet, where at first, I wasn’t sure if the puppeteer would be a little distracting but actually, he was quite brilliant, watching the little pig’s head and eyes continually moving and responding to its surroundings meant you never took your eyes off the little fella.
Babe is taken under the wing of the farmer’s loyal sheepdog Fly and once her pups have gone (a heartfelt moment in the show) Babe asks if she can teach him how to be a ‘Sheep-Pig’. Babe settles on the farm befriending all manner of creatures with his polite & friendly approach. And after a heroic effort to stop ‘Sheep Rustlers,’ he saves himself from the Christmas dinner table by proving his usefulness.
The music is a folk-infused, toe-tapping delight, with some instruments played live by this multi-talented cast. Also dramatic in parts, to add atmosphere and weight to certain darker elements of the story.
We found ourselves easily picking up this little gem and singing along:
“Here’s our Babe, let his heart never fail. He’s a clever lad this pig, with a curly kind of tail”.
An extraordinary adventure continues to unfold for our little pink hero as he finds his much less aggressive approach to sheep herding very successful. But how would he fair at the big show that Farmer Hogget is planning to enter him into, against other sheepdogs and sheep he doesn’t know? Fly, as any protective parent might, ensures he has an edge, in the form of a ‘sheep password’.
The set and staging are very clever, transitioning niftily between the scenes, the costumes wonderful (the brief appearance of a wolf is spectacular) and the mixture of dressed-up people and beautiful puppets for the differing roles works really well.
The story is aimed at young children and the message (there’s always a message), addresses prejudice and rudeness, whilst looking to reinforce self-belief and the importance of kindness.
“This will leave your heart warmed and your soul firmly uplifted for the rest of the day. As this little pig beats all the odds to come out on top”.