Christmas always sees theatre houses up their game a little bit. Their productions become a little bit grander. There’s a lot more lavishness, a lot more pizazz and a lot more bang for your buck. This is no surprise given how pantomimes become star studded attractions to pull in more than the usual theatregoer. With such demand for family orientated shows at this time of year, theatres have become adept at putting on productions that have a broad appeal. In Dr Dolittle, currently playing to packed auditoriums at The Lowry, we have one such hit show.
Based on the stories of Hugh Lofting and the famous Rex Harrison film, Dr Dolittle has become classic Christmas fare. The story revolves around our eponymous hero, who tells his tale of how he has become a doctor to the animal kingdom, entwined with the usual mirth and hilarity as well as some famous musical numbers.
It is a clever choice from The Lowry. It ticks all the boxes. It’s a classic that most people are well aware of, the songs have become ingrained, it’s a lusciously colourful production that glimmers, it contains all the elements you’d expect good old pantomimes possess, with an A-list cast and a story which, whilst its simplistic so it can appeal to the more youthful in the aisles, is engaging enough for all ages.
And it really does glitter. The set with its glowing pink stage curtain lures you in right from the off thanks to Set and Costume Designer Tom Piper. The vibrancy of the show is reflected in the ingenuity of the set that looks as if it’s comprised of several watercolor cutouts. It’s like have splashes of colour strewn on the set.
Playing the titular character is Mark Williams, and as you would expect from someone as accomplished as he that he shines. He has more than a touch of the old Rex Harrison about him, especially when it comes to the singing the showpiece tunes such as ‘Talk to the Animals’ and ‘I’ve Never Seen Anything Like it’.
Shining just as bright is Vicky Entwistle, who plays Polynesia (the parrot). Entwistle will be known to most folk as she has trodden the Coronation St. cobbles of Weatherfield as the legendary Janice Battersby, and there is no denying what an accomplished actress she is. However, it is surprising to see her puppetry skills come to the fore as she brings Polynesia the parrot to life, not only by lending it her voice and giving it its soul, but also through the movement of the puppet itself.
The puppets are the real stars of the show though. Puppet designer, Nick Barnes, clearly has had fun in creating some wonderful creations from the animal kingdom – and not forgetting the two headed llama, the rare and fabled Pushmi-pullyu. The puppetry is cleverly woven into the production that it feels as much part of the show as the rest of the cast. In doing so, it lifts this production from being a bloated expensive cobbled together feature to one that is an affectionate show full of warmth that is designed to entertain.
Last year I found The Lowry’s Christmas offering a little too much, trying a tad too hard to be that all singing, all dancing superstar hit. On paper it should have been a blockbuster hit, and to an extent it probably was, but The Elf, with its renowned stars and expensive ticketing pricing was just a little bit too commercialised.
This year, however, The Lowry have come up trumps, with an universal story that appeals to one and all, musical numbers that have you tapping your feet, and a charming cast that bring the story of Dr Dolittle to life.
Verdict: The story of Dr Dolittle is brought to life with an array of stars, magical puppetry and some great songs, that has the audience, young and old, in raptures. A festive delight!