Babe, the Sheep Pig

David Wood, adapted from the book The Sheep Pig by Dick King-Smith, music by Peter Pontzen
Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Production photo

“Write about what you know” is the advice given to aspiring authors, and Dick King-Smith, having been both a farmer and then a primary school teacher, took this advice to heart with his children’s story of farmyard animals who could talk to each other, and a little pig who after being taunted for being stupid, and with the help of a kind sheep dog, managed to prove his worth and avoided the cooking pot. Published in 1983 the book was an immediate hit and in 1996 became Babe, an enormously successful film appealing to both children and adults. The film used all the latest technology to blend real and electronic animals into one, but there is no substitute for a live show, especially with the action taking place all around. The children particularly enjoyed the slapstick comedy of the sheep rustlers being thwarted of their prey.

Farmer Hogget (Anthony Pedley) wins the little pig in a raffle and his wife (Deddie Davies) looks forward to fattening it up ready for a good dinner. The pig has our sympathy from the start, and when he learns how to round up sheep – by talking to them politely rather than growling and chasing – we know all will be well in the end, although there are some exciting adventures along the way, and the first act ends with the farmer pointing his rifle at Babe ready to shoot. “Will the boss pull the trigger?” Find out after the interval!

Designed by Susie Caulcutt, a small farmhouse (which opens to reveal the intricate interior) sits neatly on the green sward set for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the costumes are colourful and amazingly realistic for dogs, cockerel, ducks, wolves and sheep, taking a six-strong team to create them.

Having last seen Billie-Claire Wright as an elegantly lovely Hippolyta in Dream if was hard to believe that here she was as Fly the dog, and a very convincing dog too.

Auditions were held earlier in the year for local children to take part in the show, and under David Wood’s direction they all performed perfectly – even the tiny ‘puppies’.

I gave my two young guests notebooks and pens and set them to work – aged nine and seven they are old enough to write down their thoughts on the show, and their different personalities were immediately evident. Carmen wrote everything she regarded as ‘funny’ and then stopped writing to concentrate on the play, while Lanna was so engrossed in the performance that she didn’t want to take her eyes off the stage – but wrote copiously in the interval and at the end.

Lanna’s thoughts:- “I didn’t like the bit when the puppies had to go and leave their mother, but I did like it when the men came to take the sheep away and Babe helped the sheep to escape. I also liked it at the end when Babe won the trophy It was scary, but I liked it when Babe had a nightmare and when all the voices in his head were speaking all together, and then suddenly the farmer and his wife and the dog were walking in slow motion and then changed back to normal ready to do the big trial the next day”.

Carmen had a list of everything she found funny:- Dressed up sheep. A dog chasing sheep. A dog talking. A dog’s voice. The music. Ducks waddling. She also remembered the ‘password’ for the sheep and recited it perfectly later.

I may be ewe I may be ram,
I maybe mutton I may be lamb,
But on the hoof or on the hook
I b’aint as stupid as I look.

A delightful, exciting and very colourful show which manages to keep a large and very young audience totally captivated. Need I say more!

Running until 26th August

Reviewer: Sheila Connor

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