With pantos popping up left, right and centre, seeing something more earnestly children-orientated will certainly be a pull for many families. Step in Mr Popper’s Penguins, a family friendly treat of a show that while never aiming to talk down to its audience, is as accessible to children of all ages (and invariably a few parents as well!)
Based on the 1938 book of the same name (and largely faithful to this original concept), the play orientates around Mr Popper’s misadventures with his South Pole feathered friend Captain Cook. Cook, at first alone in Popper’s house, sees heartbreak, success, and romance throughout his life, all, pivotally, delivered withspades of humour. For those families worried about their children’s attention spans, it’s thankfully neatly packed into an hour of fun at London’s Criterion.
Popper’s love for the bird sees him freeze up his house (much to the despair of his long-suffering wife), feed Cook and his eventual penguin family fish by the bucket load, and even try and recruit them into his decorating business. It’s a well-paced, constantly engaging plot that ends with something nice and magical (and a fair few gasps of wonder).
The whole show comes across as an easy, entertaining time. Puppetry work here is well-choreographed and, fundamentally, realistic, even with the child penguins that are less motorised than Cook and his wife. The penguin chicks were also warmly received, as was Zoe Squire’s design (built here on top of the original Mischief Theatre’s stage for The Comedy about a Bank Robbery) which saw a single back flat hide a variety of tricks and props that conjured up Popper’s world in seconds (especially vital when a child’s attention span can run rampant if a scene change lasts more than a couple of seconds!)
A key star here is the music, never overly complex but consistently replete with easy tunes, motifs and energetic choreography. A penguin dance, stuffed with acrobatic exercises, took this a step further, and the show builds to a nice arc of eventual satisfaction. The music from Luke Bateman and Richy Hughes compliments this nicely – each song short, sweet and to the point.
The perfect show for a Christmas break, while it never attempts to break too many moulds and sticks to its guns, the timelessness of Mr Popper’s Penguins is clear to see in this production. As the holidays draw on, the show is a hot ticket for a morning of fun in the heart of London.