My Friend Peter continues at the Arts Theatre, London until 23 June.
Rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
I was captivated from the moment I saw and heard the mandolin played melodically against two acoustic guitars in the informal, folksy pre-show music. The same trio – played interchangeably between cast members – provide all the rest of the music which includes accompanying attractively harmonised ensemble numbers.
This delightful show (book by Casey Jay Andrews, music by Laura Trundle and Dominic Sewell) tells the story of Beatrix Potter’s life with its privations, loves, losses and successes. Interpolated are enacted accounts – cue some joyful, wonderfully truthful physical theatre – of several of her stories. Of course it’s a family show in every sense of the word. Children read those stories in school today and grown-ups – even those of us who’ve been grown up for quite a while – rejoice in the tales which they’ve known almost by heart all their lives.
It’s an ensemble piece in which every actor – three of them accomplished actor-musos – plays a whole string of roles and their high quality acting convinces totally.
Laura Trundle, for example, is feisty as Beatrix, moving when she loses Frederick Warne, her fiancé, resilient when she buys Hill Top Farm – and along the way she gives us a fabulous bonneted, wing-flapping, silly-voiced, stupid Jemima Puddleduck.
Caitlin Power shifts effortlessly between Beatrix’s appallingly snobbish mother and her kind friend Annie Moore. Jack Brett (when he isn’t playing that mandolin so nicely) is strong as Noel Moore, the receiver of Beatrix’s original stories, written in the form of letters to cheer him up when he’s ill. At other times Brett does, among other things, a very dastardly Mr Fox and a gruff account of Beatrix’s father, as well as hopping about as Peter Rabbit.
Alex Hooper is appealing as Norman Warne and Ryan Woodcock is terrific as, for example, a disdainful, camp Jeremy Fisher and a manic Squirrel Nutkin. And they all play other roles as well.
My Friend Peter is one of four shows currently running at the Arts Theatre, all themed on famous authors. It’s a bijoux musical which works well in the upstairs studio space.
For gentle charm, wit and truth, it’s outstanding. HookHitch Theatre Company’s production, directed by Leonie Marzecki, premiered last year at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I hope it has a future life beyond this short run, because it certainly deserves to. I’m only sorry that the audience was as miniature as the piece – just 12 people on a Saturday night does not do this impressive piece of work justice.