The Lowry, Salford Quays
Until Saturday 5th January 2019
Leslie Bricusse’s Doctor Dolittle may not be a show that immediately springs to mind when one thinks of traditional Christmas entertainment, though in Music & Lyrics’ utterly charming new production – which now takes over The Lowry’s vast Lyric Theatre for an extended run until 5th January 2019 – audiences will find an uplifting, inspiring and hugely innovative musical adventure that proves perfect for all the family this festive season.
Based on Richard Fleischer’s Academy Award-winning film of the same name – itself adapted from Hugh Lofting’s much-loved Doctor Dolittle children’s stories – Bricusse’s own stage production first premiered at London’s Hammersmith Apollo back in 1998 (starring Phillip Schofield in the title role) and became one of the most expensive musicals ever staged with a lofty budget of £4 million.
Though by no means scaled back, Christopher Renshaw’s joyous new version has an intentionally quaint and homemade quality to it, making full use of the large, multifunctional storybook model and hand-drawn sketches that fill Tom Piper’s bright and evocative designs. Incorporating a fluid, story-like approach, Renshaw’s delightful and poignant production pays full homage to Lofting’s original stories as characters literally jump from page to stage.
At its core is the eccentric Doctor John Dolittle, a struggling medical doctor who learns to talk to animals with the help of his faithful sidekick Polynesia, a near 200-year-old parrot. Accompanied by a trusty band of human and animal companions, the Doctor soon sets out to change the way animals are treated and understood in the wide world, all the while attempting to locate the mysterious floating Sea Star Island and track down the elusive Giant Pink Sea Snail.
Unsurprisingly, no production of Doctor Dolittle would be complete without the menagerie of animals that fill Dolittle’s surreal and wonderful world, and it is the superb work of puppet designer Nick Barnes and puppet director Jimmy Grimes that really elevates this production. In fact, to say the puppetry is on par with the likes of War Horse would be no exaggeration.
Bricusse’s stage version injects a few surprise twists and changes into the mix – some more successful than others – and the newly revised book brings things a little more up to date by reinforcing the core themes of animal welfare and the impact of mankind’s actions on the animal kingdom.
The songbook offers highlights in the form of Talk to the Animals, My Friend the Doctor, and I’ve Never Seen Anything Like It, however many of the accompanying songs are sadly rather forgettable and don’t add a great deal of substance. Thankfully there is enough warmth and energy in the characters, puppets, dialogue and performances to effectively carry the piece along.
As the Doctor, Mark Williams brings a real sincerity to the role that feels much more lighthearted and jovial when compared with Rex Harrison’s often crotchety portrayal in the film. He’s no great singer, and does have a tendency to gabble on occasion, however his overall performance is a charismatic and heartfelt one that exudes passion and tenderness.
Vicky Entwistle is great fun as Polynesia, delivering the lines in an exaggerated Lancashire twang, and Patrick Sullivan is a real standout as Dolittle’s affable Irish companion, Matthew Mugg. Mollie Melia-Redgrave makes for a radiant Emma Fairfax and sings with a clarity and purity reminiscent of a young Julie Andrews.
Bursting with colour, charm and warmth – and with an educational and hugely significant message at its core – Doctor Dolittle is an uplifting and captivating crowd-pleaser that is sure to win over the hearts of audiences young and old this Christmas.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30-minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.
Final Performance at the The Lowry, Salford Quays: Saturday 5th January 2019
For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.