Growing up I remember being fascinated by an apocryphal tale about a young boy who fell in love with a penguin on a school trip to Edinburgh Zoo. He sneaked it home in his backpack only for it to be discovered swimming in the family bath tub by his mum, who swiftly returned it.
As a child, my Disney-inspired view of wild animals made this story seem believable. The idea of having a cute penguin as a pet, even if just for a short while, would be a dream come true.
This childhood fantasy is at the heart of Mr Popper’s Penguins. Mr Popper (Will Kelly) is one of those ever-lasting dreamers who never grows up. He earns his living painting and decorating while day dreaming about life in the Antarctic. For Mr Popper, life is all books and imagination until one day an unusual parcel arrives making his dream a reality when out pops a fully-grown, live penguin he names, Captain Cook. Now the new visitor has arrived the cosy town of Stillwater is about to feel some ripples.
Sensible Mrs Popper (Monica Nash) has all kinds of objections at first, not least to do with keeping the house neat and tidy. But soon too she is won over by the cute little guy’s mischief and all normal rules are relaxed, particularly around table manners.
A second parcel brings Captain Cook a mate, and soon there are tiny chicks everywhere. The chaos that ensues has the youngsters in hysterics and the adults wondering if having a penguin family is much different from their own children as the little ones turn all their routines upside-down, bringing both joy and sleep deprivation.
The creation of this unlikely family is a heart-warming story that originated as a children’s book by Richard and Florence Atwater and later won Hollywood movie success with zany Jim Carry as Mr Popper.
The musical version sticks closely to the book for the story, driving the narrative with original tunes by Luke Bateman and Richy Hughes and giving a comical nod to big Broadway musicals like The Producers, particularly in some even more wildly imaginative final scenes.
At one-hour straight through the time whizzes by. And while this tightly-directed production leaves no room for interaction from the youngsters, the audience do get to join-in a penguin dance for a cool finale that can’t fail to warm the spirits.★ ★ ★ ★