Sarah and Duck Big Top Birthday, Old Rep Theatre, Birmingham - review
Acrobatic shallots, a top-hat wearing umbrella, a constellation of trousers and a forgetful old lady in need of a birthday party. Welcome to the world of Sarah and Duck's Big Top Birthday.
For the uninitiated, Sarah and Duck is the delightful, Bafta-winning animated CBeebies programme, featuring a polite, tuba-playing seven-year-old girl and her best pal - a manic mallard named Duck. Quack. There's been more than 120 episodes on telly, centring on the touching friendship between Sarah and Duck and their escapades.
And now it's been brought to the theatre through a blend of puppetry, storytelling and music.
In the stage version, Sarah and Duck set about organising a surprise birthday party for Scarf Lady, with the help of Sarah's Japanese friend John and his flamingo, Umbrella, The Shallots and The Ribbon Sisters. With a big top tent, the friends practise their variety acts ready for the party. The Shallots, for example, plan a display of acrobatics, while Umbrella prepares a magic trick, not without a few hitches.
Keeping a toddler engaged for an hour is no easy task but Sarah and Duck live - on the whole - managed it with aplomb. A fast-moving, coherent plot and plenty of music and magical moments kept little ones enthralled throughout the performance. And there was enough intelligent humour to keep the adults happy too; as Duck was about to be fired from a cannon an emergency health and safety risk assessment was carried out, raising a wry smile from most of the parents in the audience.
The intimate surroundings of The Old Rep provided an ideal setting for many children's first theatre experience and there was just enough audience participation for little ones to feel involved without it turning into a panto.
The puppetry was seamless as was the narration by the inimitable Endeavour and Thick of It actor Roger Allam. Downton Abbey actress Lesley Nicol's voice was delightful as the Scarf Lady, while Tasha Lawrence returned as Sarah.
Sarah and Duck's Big Top Birthday felt comfortingly familiar; it didn't stray too far from the TV version - as is too often the case with stage interpretations. This made it a joyful introduction to the theatre for tots, and an enjoyable experience for mums and dads too.