Where is Peter Rabbit?
Theatre Royal, Haymarket
With a cast list that includes Miriam Margolyes and Griff Rhys Jones and songs by Alan Ayckborn, you’d be forgiven for thinking Where is Peter Rabbit? should be aimed at a more mature audience. But this child-friendly performance was the first show I’d been to where you’re stopped at the theatre doors – not for a bag search, but to be directed to the buggy park.
Where is Peter Rabbit? was a very grown-up children’s production – and I mean that in a positive way. Described as “The Beatrix Potter Musical Adventure” the show was an hour of Beatrix Potter tales told as Beatrix Potter would have wanted them to be told. A beautiful set designed to look like an English country garden, with greenery and foxgloves. Set changes were mini ballets. The producers even used some of Potter’s original illustrations to give the show a real air of authenticity.
Recommended for ages 3+, I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a booster seat for my mini reviewer, meaning the younger audience members didn’t have to kneel or peer up at the stage for the whole of the show.
As soon as the first strains of the musical introduction started, the children were captivated – instant silence. Beatrix Potter steps onto the stage as a gust of wind blows her collection of stories to the floor – and this is how we are introduced to her most-loved characters, and discover that she has "lost Peter Rabbit".
Jemima Puddle-Duck comes to Potter’s rescue, offering to fly above the town looking for Peter – and along the way happens to spy Mrs Tiggy Winkle, Jeremy Fisher, Tommy Brock, Mr Tod, Little Lucie and the dastardly Mr McGregor. Each character has their story told through a combination of straight narration – from Potter herself, played by Joanna Brown, and the guest voice overs of Margolyes and Rhys Jones – as well as the use of puppets. It is a small cast and the puppets are manned by the remaining four cast members. The life-size puppets are attached to the actors and the animation is, I have to say, incredible. No Pinocchio-esque string pulling here.
The piece de resistance of the play had to be Mr McGregor’s story – a musical jaunt through his allotment which involved five Mr McGregors being on stage at once, each with a different crop in his wheelbarrow. The children in the audience were delighted by this and it helped pick up the pace of the second half of the show. Most parents will admit that expecting a child to concentrate for an hour is a tall order, so it was understandable that after the first 30 minutes attentions began to wander. But Mr McGregor pulled it back – just in time for Peter Rabbit to be found, which was, obviously, the highlight of the show.
The play ended with a roundup of Potter’s original drawings projected into the back of the stage, bringing this lovely performance full circle.
For older children that already love the Beatrix Potter stories, this is a great Easter holiday treat. Very true to the original stories – in contrast to the 2018 film version with James Corden, the language and costumes were not modernised or edited in any way – and very well done. For younger children just getting into the tales, it brought the much-loved and easily recognisable characters to life.
Where is Peter Rabbit? runs at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 28 April. For tickets please visit www.peterrabbitlive.com