There are times when a particular title will jump out at you and niggle in the back of your brain. If you’re not made even slightly curious by the title Penguinpig, I’d say you were missing out. And indeed you would be, for Penguinpig is a delightful adaptation of the Stuart Spendlow picture book of the same name, brought to the Fringe by Lincolnshire group Barmpot Theatre.
Charming, modern and relevant, Penguinpig is an excellent start to anyone’s morning.
Advertised at three to eight year olds, Penguinpig is the story of Sophie, who finds out about a marvellous-sounding creature called a Penguinpig on the Internet. Seeing an advert listing it at the local zoo, Sophie sneaks away from home to have a look, as her loyal dog Spike chases after her to bring her home and keep her safe.
Almost everything is communicated through puppets by two strong performers, Isabella Chiam and Aiysha Nugent-Robinson, who deftly switch between the many roles asked of them. The puppets themselves are excellently made; the Penguinpig itself doesn’t disappoint and the design has been perfectly balanced to give you enough of a character without necessarily presenting an entire puppet. Sophie’s parents, for instance, are two pairs of male and female legs respectively, whilst many animals at the zoo are represented only by a paw or a head, but it never feels cheap or like corners have been cut. Instead, the balance between puppet and performer is perfect.
Full marks must also go to the set design as a whole. Economical for such a small performance space, it nevertheless conveys everything it needs to. The use of a giant tablet shaped performance space for both regular puppetry and shadow puppetry is a brilliant choice. Plus, the story itself is a refreshing choice for children’s theatre: a story about technology which doesn’t end with the moral “go outside and ignore that nasty terrifying technology” but is rather a more balanced message about online safety in general and the role that parents can play.
There are elements of the show that fall into the more traditional "Children’s Show at the Fringe" territory: audience participation, the occasional song, the obligatory reference to dabbing. They are nice enough but occasionally it does feel like some moments are only there because they would be ‘expected’ in a children’s show or to fill a bit of time. Conversely, with the songs, there are not actually that many of them so it is a little bit surprising when one starts. They are performed well, but could have been integrated more seamlessly.
Younger children will not worry about such things however. Children toward the top of the advertised age group (seven to eight) might find the show a bit ‘basic’ for them in parts but definitely still enjoyable. I would heartily recommend this without hesitation to any parents with children aged six and under. Charming, modern and relevant, Penguinpig is an excellent start to anyone’s morning.