17:38 Wednesday 19 December 2012

Heart-warming tale of a pig, a man and a spider

Written byNIGEL POWLSON

Charlotte's Web - Derby Theatre

IT may be panto season but Derby Theatre has built a Christmas tradition of its own by staging a children’s classic over the Christmas holidays each year since it re-opened.

Charlotte's Web at Derby Theatre (pic: Johann Persson)
Charlotte's Web at Derby Theatre (pic: Johann Persson)

Building on the success of shows such as The Wind in the Willows and last Christmas’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s BFG, this year the venue offers us EB White’s tale Charlotte’s Web, familiar to many youngsters because of the 2006 film version which featured the voice of Julia Roberts.

At first it’s not an obvious choice for the festive season as the story has no genuine connections with Christmas but, in this guise, it’s a heart-warming tale of friendship that proves to be good for all seasons and which will particularly delight the youngest members of the family.

It’s aboutWilbur the pig, the runt of a litter who is quickly earmarked for the dinner table. But thanks to the love of the farmer’s daughter and the friendship of Charlotte the spider, who inhabits the barn where Wilbur grows up, our little heromight yet have a chance of survival, if he can win the blue ribband at a country fair.

This adaptation (in conjunction with Birmingham Stage Company) is a musical but the songs are, surprisingly, the show’s weakest element, despite being penned by Charles Strouse, of Annie fame.

By contrast, the animal characterisations are universally good, whether it be a wide boy rat (Richard Neale) or a hilarious goose (Hayley Ellenbrook) who repeats everything at least thrice.

But, naturally, it’s Wilbur and Charlotte who take centre stage and they are beautifully drawn by Richard James- Neale and Claire Redcliffe respectively.

His facial expressions and movements makeWilbur instantly lovable, while she brings out Charlotte’s quiet dignity. It’s a suitably touching friendship that is the beating heart of this show.

The director is Roger Haines, returning to the venue after winning a TMA Award for The Go-Between, and he’s ensured that the gentle quality of the tale isn’t overwhelmed.

It all looks lovely too, an idyllic farmsetting from yesteryear that suits the story.

Overall, a production that oozes charm and which has plenty of family appeal.

Charlotte’s Web can be seen at Derby Theatre until January 12. Go to www.derbytheatre.co.uk

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