Super furry animals

Curve, Leicester, Thursday 22nd December, 2011

Based on a picture book by Nick Butterworth, this simple little show is no less enchanting than the larger-scale festive productions I have seen this season. It tells the tale of Percy the Park Keeper, a man so dedicated to his leaf-sweeping and hedge-trimming he actually resides at the park in a lowly wooden hut. We see Percy going about his duties and he sings a song about dressing correctly for cold weather – two other performers, apparently invisible to Percy, hamper his progress: they put his wellingtons on his hands and turn his coat inside out; they follow him with a tub of leaves, sprinkling them on the path he has just swept. It is simple humour – Percy’s increasingly grotesque double-takes at finding leaves on his freshly swept path gained larger and louder laughter from the audience of young children and their supervisory adult entourages.

The other two performers represented the wind, or some other force of nature, I thought, but as the show went on, I began to understand…

After a song in which Percy recounts his daily lunchtime fare in a manner that Craig David would envy, You Know Where You Are With A Sandwich, and some flappy bird puppets have helped themselves to his crumbs, Percy takes us inside his hut and we watch him get ready for bed. He doesn’t have the chance to settle into his bed, however, because the first of a long line of visitors knocks on the door. It is a squirrel – soon to be followed by a pair of rabbits, a couple of ducks, a fox, a badger, a hedgehog, and a troupe of mice. They are all seeking refuge from the snow and Percy invites them all to share his bed.

The animals – the cutest puppets you will ever see – are all operated by the other two performers, who animate each critter, switching deftly from accent to accent, from characterisation to characterisation, so smoothly, you think there must be more than two puppeteers. They were not wearing blacks and didn’t hide behind the scenery, remaining in full view throughout – they represented children playing with cuddly toys – imagine Andy in Toy Story, creating adventures for his playthings and doing all the voices . This production relates to children not only in terms of content but also in its form. Devoid of innuendo, this would charm the most hardened cynic, but what does an adult get from it, other than the pleasure of seeing the delight on children’s faces?

It is a metaphor, I suppose. The animals put aside their differences (they don’t eat each other!) in a time of hardship, to weather the storm together. They solve the problem of the lack of resources (space in which to sleep) without conflict. The message is we are all in this together – a phrase more effective and pertinent here than dripping from the oily lips of any reptilian politician.

As Percy the Park-keeper, Colin Hurley keeps things together, bumbling through his routines and accepting each surprise guest with a warm welcome and an open heart. He has something of the bloke from Rita, Sue and Bob Too about him but I don’t hold that against him.

With skill and versatility the puppeteers, Amy Tweed and James Baldwin, keep an ever-increasing cast of creatures alive and interacting and an audience of young and old alike amused and in their thrall. The puppets, designed by Amelia Pimlott, are equally delightful. The theatre could make a fortune selling versions of them in the foyer after the show.

About williamstafford

Novelist (Brough & Miller, sci fi, historical fantasy) Theatre critic and Actor - I can often be found walking the streets of Stratford upon Avon in the guise of the Bard! View all posts by williamstafford

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