You probably remember ‘Babe’ the film from 1995, which was a surprise box-office success about a pig who wanted to become a sheepdog. Both the film and the production now playing at the Polka Theatre were based on the 1983 book ‘The Sheep-pig’ by Dick King-Smith. We went along excitedly to the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon last weekend to see what director Michael Fentiman and adaptor Michael Wood had done with it.
The plot begins when sheep farmer Farmer Hoggett wins a pig in a ‘guess the weight of the pig’ championship (I think this sort of thing happens more in the countryside than it does in South Wimbledon). Almost straight away there seems to be a bond between him and the pig, and it is this sweet relationship that is at the heart of this story.
At first, the Hoggetts intend to fatten up the pig to eat him. However, after an event when Babe alerts them to sheep rustlers who are trying to steal their sheep overnight, it becomes clear that Babe is more of a hero than a potential meal. In Mrs Hoggett’s classic words: ‘He saved our bacon so we will save his’. On the farm we have the sheepdog Fly, who is rather rude to the sheep, and it turns out that the sheep would really rather be treated more kindly. Enter Babe, who has the right turn of phrase and gentle nature that they respond well to. Soon Babe is practising for the Grand Challenge Sheep Dog Trial – as the sheep-pig.
We then witness Babe’s bravery again, as he defends old ewe Maa from a scary warrior dog (this is an amazing contraption and quite scary). There is a cliffhanger when Hoggett gets the wrong idea about what Babe was doing. No spoilers here but as you can imagine there is a happy ending.
As with all of Polka’s main stage productions, and especially their Christmas shows, this is a crowd-pleaser for all ages. The sets are nicely done and the cast all did a great job. My favourites were the farmers who were made to look older with some clever masks, and who acted brilliantly. I was suitably stunned when the cast came out for a special Q&A at the end and Emma Barclay and Ben Inglis were young actors! (Yes I know, that’s why they are called actors, but all credit to them for their performances). Inglis does not need to say much in this role, but his walk and his stance and his clear affection for the pig are spot on and really touching. Barclay’s contrastingly talkative humour as Mrs Froggett is warm and funny, and I became quite fond of them both.
I also thought Oliver Grant’s puppeteering of the Babe puppet was lovely, and in the Q&A he wouldn’t or couldn’t come out of porcine character! It was also fascinating to hear from David Wood, who had adapted the book into the play, and who had been a friend of Dick King-Smith. I liked King-Smith even more when I read about him in the programme. Not only did he have many dachshunds throughout his life (as my family has done) but he also had a labrador called Hattie, who he presented TV shows with! Also worth looking for in the programme is the brilliantly titled article ‘Oink-omatopoeia’ which gives you the word for Oink in many languages. Perfect interval reading for the linguist in me.
I must also mention some of the other puppetry, for instance the cats (whose legs are handled separately from their bodies), and the ducks on wheels. Overall the show is pleasing and warm and it teaches important lessons about how to be brave and how to stand up for what you believe in. As David Wood so wisely put it when posed the insightful question by a very young audience member, ‘Why is the pig so brave?’:
‘Because he has a big dream and he doesn’t let the world get in his way’.
We attended Babe the Sheep-Pig on press tickets. Photographs my own, apart from the two production photographs (copyright Polka Theatre).
Babe the Sheep-Pig is playing at the Polka Theatre until 5th February 2017, then goes on tour.