by Richard and Florence Atwater adapted by Pins and Needles lyrics by Richy Hughes music by Luke Bateman.

The Lowry (Quays Theatre) Pier 8 Salford Quays M50 3AZ To 10 January 2016.
10am 30, 31 Dec.
10.30am 27-29 Dec, 2,3, 5, 6, 8, 9 Jan.
1.30pm 27-29 Dec, 3, 5, 8, 10 Jan.
Runs 1h 5min No interval.

TICKETS: 0843 208 6000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 13 December.

Wild fantasy made life through complete calm in manner of storytelling.
Mr Popper seems very ordinary, and so for its first few minutes does Pins and Needles’ production, as yet another pleasant raid on the store of children’s stories rediscovered for staging – the Atwaters’ book was written back in 1938.

It’s worth persisting through those first few minutes. For what follows depends upon the entire ordinariness of Mr Popper’s life. He is a painter, not in the sense of artist, but of decorator. And inside his trim suburban appearance, ultra-neat and respectable, sits and stirs the soul of an adventurer.

Even the old wireless that’s part of his standard suburban home is used to bring him reports of polar expeditions. So enthusiastically has Mr P approached polar explorers with keen questions that one of them sends him a live penguin.

Mr Popper’s excited (Mrs Popper isn’t). This is not what Stillwater expects (the novel’s American, but the English setting of the adaptation is equally appropriate). Soon the penguin’s rejuvenated Mr Popper’s stagnant home. But the joint really starts jumpin’ when female penguin Greta arrives from the zoo, leading to a parade of young penguins. Doors and windows are left open to icy blasts to keep them cool when they’re not cosily aligned in the family fridge.

No goldfish is safe when the creatures grow ravenous. Eventually, Mr Popper does what other parents of large, costly broods have done, putting them on the stage. They’re a great success – like this show – but the fun has to end when the cold call of the Wild summons the creatures to their end-of-the-earth habitat.

Sad Mr Popper accepts the inevitable-seeming separation as he goes to see them sail away. But just as the downward trend of his briefly lively life seems set to resume – even his house number, 432, suggests it – up pops Mrs Popper on deck and asks why he’s not already boarded with them.

As emotional cold grips Stillwater, Mr Popper voyages away in a happy end to this happy, skilful mix of invention, colour and humour, all highlighted through the controlled restraint of manner in which the extraordinary acquires complete conviction.

Mr Popper: Russell Morton.
Mrs Popper: Roxanne Palmer.
Captain Cook/Mr Greenbaum: Toby Manley.
Greta/Admiral Drake: Lucy Grattan.

Director: Emma Earle.
Designer: Zoe Squire.
Lighting: Ric Mountjoy.
Sound: Jason Barnes.
Puppets: Nick Barnes.

2016-01-07 13:37:47

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