Hot on the heels of Everyone’s Talking About Jamie, another all-singing and all-dancing show born in Sheffield has hit the West End – but this time the stars are the much-loved characters of children's author and illustrator Beatrix Potter.
Where is Peter Rabbit? was devised by the Sheffield-based designer Roger Glossop, and combines live actors with larger-than-life puppets made in Sheffield by Square Pebble, the trading name of designers and makers Phil Allen and Ana Snawdon Allen.
Five of Beatrix Potter's original Tales have been woven together by Glossop, former head of design at the Crucible Theatre, using her original dialogue.
And they've had ecstatic reviews in the national media as well as seeing some of their creations appear on BBC-TV's The One Show with Miriam Margolyes, who has recorded some of the narration and dialogue alongside Griff Rhys Jones.
“Clever puppetry makes characters such as Tommy Brock and Mr Tod come alive” wrote The Times; “Pure animal magic … what makes this show special is the exquisite attention to detail” said the Mail on Sunday; and the Daily Telegraph chorused “Fantastic puppets” of the show which opened last week at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.
Square Pebble made seven puppets in all and a huge range of props including a set which can collapse when Tommy Brock, the Badger with the evil grin, and Mr Tod, the deceptively handsome fox, have a brutal fight.
Audience favourites have included Mrs Tiggywinkle and Henny Penny with her catchphrase “I go barefoot, barefoot.”
Ana Snawdon Allen's own favourite is the “fun and bouncy” Mr Jeremy Fisher, apparently unfazed by the appearance of a huge trout as he fishes on his lily-pad.
Phil Allen described the project as “wonderful and challenging” having also worked on the original production of the show at the Old Laundry Theatre, next to the World of Beatrix Potter attraction at Bowness in the Lake District owned by Roger Glossop and his theatre producer wife, Charlotte Scott
For Ana Snawdon Allen, “The challenge is to take Beatrix Potter's beautiful two-dimensional drawings and transform them into three-dimensional characters with the personalities that people have come to love for over 100 years.”
Phil Allen adds: “They have to be light enough to manipulate – they are literally all-singing and all-dancing – but also robust enough to survive up to three 55-minute shows a day.”
There's an additional complication. They share the Theatre Royal with the new musical Only Fools and Horses and lack of space backstage means Mr McGregor's period wooden wheelbarrows – at the centre of a lively dance routine as he pursues Peter Rabbit with thoughts of rabbit pie – have to be dismantled each day for storage.
Where is Peter Rabbit? with music by Steven Edis and lyrics by Alan Ayckbourn is running during the school holidays at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in London.
Might it be seen in Sheffield one day? Square Pebble would be very happy.