a musical out of poetic animal stories aimed at children is nothing new but,
while Andrew Lloyd Webber opted to turn T S Eliot’s
Big, bright and busy, this is definitely a show worth catching
OK: with the Hairy Maclary series we’re hardly talking books the length of War and Peace, but there’s arguably still more “things happening” here than in the entirety of Cats. If that’s not enough to hold the attention, though, there’s also the bright, expertly designed set that’s a marvel of compactness, with numerous features folded in and pulled out as and when they’re required. While the musical accompaniment may appear pre-recorded, the speaking and singing cast are nevertheless bold in their performances and expert at holding the audience’s attention – no mean feet when many of the latter are under the age of three.
Admittedly, the approach of Hairy Maclary and Friends is distinctly different from Cats, in which many of the on-stage characters “speak” directly to the audience. Despite their billing, the dogs – titular star included – are dogs which only move and bark. This new touring production of the musical safely rests on the shoulders of Carrie Mancini as the good-natured Miss Plum and Steven Hogan as the friendliest butcher shop owner imaginable. If Hogan can come across as a tad too saccharine on occasions, this is more than compensated by the genuine connection between Mancini and the audience – not just the children, but also all us “older children” (ie, adults) hiding in the back. Right from the off, she has everyone – and I do mean everyone – singing along, clapping hands and stamping feet in specific ways in order to indicate each of the books’ distinctive canine characters.
The musical’s younger target audience can be clearly seen in its reliance on repetition and speed – though, of course, that’s also properly representative of the original books with their wildly memorable illustrations. If the performers performing the dogs (in full costumes and masks – no picnic when the weather’s as warm as it was on the day of this review!) have little opportunity to go beyond some basic doggie movements and barking, they at least have a few opportunities to quick-change into other roles – although the highlight must be three rather tall, skinny and disconcerted bees who are part of the supporting cast when Hairy Maclary encounters the busy-busy duck Zachary Quack.
Big, bright and busy, this is definitely a show worth catching as it continues to tour Scotland.