Theatre review - Doctor Doolittle The Musical, The Lowry, Salford

Doctor Doolittle with Sophie the Seal, in Doctor Doolittle the Musical

Doctor Doolittle with Sophie the Seal, in Doctor Doolittle the Musical - Credit: Archant

I have only vague memories of the film, but they are all good, so I was looking forward to introducing my son to the story last night, as Doctor Doolittle, the Musical, opened for its three week festive season run at The Lowry. He wasn’t to be disappointed, thoroughly enjoying the story, the music and the puppets.

Doctor Doolittle (Mark Williams) meets the Pushmi Pullyu.

Doctor Doolittle (Mark Williams) meets the Pushmi Pullyu. - Credit: Archant

The storyline is one of pure, happy fantasy: Doctor Doolittle is a doctor for humans, not animals, but not terribly good at it. He would love to be an animal doctor, but the lack of ability to communicate with them has held him back – until his parrot, Polynesia, speaks up and offers to teach him to speak to all the animals. Five years later, he’s having the time of his life, when a letter arrives apparently from naturalist Straight Arrow, telling him that the unique Giant Pink Sea Snail, who has the secret to eternal life, is in grave danger. He sends Doctor D a Pushmi Pullyu with which to raise funds to buy a boat – and the adventure begins.

Mark Williams, as Doctor Doolittle, is brilliant casting. He embodies the role of a man fed up with humankind, yet filled with kindness and curiosity, to perfection. You can see the small boy in him, the Gerald Durrell, the David Attenborough, the man who loves animals and find most humans inexplicable.

Emma Fairfax (Mollie Melia-Redgrave) Doctor Doolittle (Mark Williams) and Matthew Mugg (Patrick Sull

Emma Fairfax (Mollie Melia-Redgrave) Doctor Doolittle (Mark Williams) and Matthew Mugg (Patrick Sullivan) - Credit: Archant

The puppets were excellently done, too. I have seen a few shows now with puppets, so am aware that the human element doesn’t distract from the animal and the puppetry here is excellent, with sound and movement quite superb. The Pushmi Pullyu is a joy, but for me, Sophie the Seal really nails it. Key character Polynesia, the parrot, is voiced and moved by Vicky Entwistle and she does a great job, learning a new skill, I am sure, for the role and doing it so well you can forget the woman herself is even there.

The role of Emma Fairfax is played by the hugely talented (hopefully star-in-the-making) local girl Mollie Melia-Redgrave. Her voice just soars and it is her talent, and the vocal talent of Patrick Sullivan, who plays Matthew Mugg, the cat meat man, that lifts the music from good to great.

Doctor Doolittle (Mark Williams) and Polynesia (Vicky Entwistle)

Doctor Doolittle (Mark Williams) and Polynesia (Vicky Entwistle) - Credit: Archant

There is one weak link, I have to say – I am a little puzzled by the casting of Adele Anderson as Lady Bellowes/Poison Ivy. She does just fine in the Lady Bellowes role, marching about being all strident and unpleasant, but her turn as Poison Ivy was a case of over-egging the wicked sister pudding and her voice simply wasn’t up to the job when it came to songs. I positively flinched more than once and couldn’t understand half of what she said. Maybe she’s shouted so much in her LB role that she’s broken her voice; let’s just hope it’s a cold. I know from her resume that she’s celebrated for her singing, so fingers crossed. I really don’t enjoy criticising any actor prepared to put themselves on stage every night for hundreds of people, but with the rest of the cast being so strong, Adele Anderson does rather stand out and not in a good way.

I love that the Lowry always puts on a Christmas show that’s not a pantomime. Pantos can be very overwhelming for children of all ages, not just little ones, so the opportunity to choose something gentle, funny and clever, with wonderful songs and a talented cast (not to mention two-headed llamas, a dodo and a sabre-tooth tiger), brilliant ensemble dancing (the creatures from the deep scene especially) and with a message even the littlest can comprehend, is wonderful.

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Oh, if we could just talk to the animals…

Doctor Doolittle, the Musical runs at The Lowry till Saturday 5 January: