Theatre review: Hairy Maclary and Friends (4 stars)

  • Posted by Anna Morell
  • Theatre
Hairy Maclary

Out of the gate, and off for a walk… Hairy Maclary is over 230 in dog years now, but still capturing the hearts of everyone he bounds up to. Very young British children rate the books on a par with Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s creations, but like the DVD, the live show has only been regularly and readily available in the Southern hemisphere.

The stage production embarked on a small UK tour in 2011, and now it’s back for a second run, with Miss Plum and Samuel Stone the butcher bursting through the fourth wall from the off, inviting the audience to interact with them, point things out, and shout as loudly as they can when the characters need some help.

At times, the roaring sounds like the intro to The Smiths’ ‘Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me’ on helium. It’s an actual riot of over-excited three to five year-olds screaming their hearts out at the lovable dogs and Scarface Claw. Also like The Smiths, there’s something kitchen sink lovely about the production. There’s not a Stage School Perfect face in sight. Just warm, real neighbourly faces with warm, real engaging voices. There’s not a trace of RP – a rarity in the precision diction world of children’s theatre. Instead, Miss Plum is resolutely Scottish (an echo of Hairy’s Mac?) and Samuel Stone is Northern English. Also breaking from the stereotype of perfection, a supporting actress limps and has crutches in both her roles. Whether through accident or disability, we aren’t told. But there she is, and the production is richer for presenting diversity so normally.

I had my doubts about the dogs having seen stills from the show. The live action puppy costumes looked a little lacking. But each dog looks and moves exactly as they do in your head when reading the books. Hairy Maclary is bouncy and lively, Hercules Morse is big and bullish, Muffin Mclay is a tumbling bundle of hay, Bottomley Potts is louche and loveable, Bitzer Maloney is lithely athletic and, of course, skinny and bony, and Schnitzel Von Krumm practically planks to ensure his tum is indeed very low.

Half a dozen stories are explored as songs, while pictures of the dogs are collected in a shout-when-you-see-them treasure hunt. It’s an absolute delight. A joyful romp through stories you know by heart, as beautifully faithful to the originals as a dog is to its master.

Hairy Maclary and Friends was at the Tunbridge Wells Assembly Hall Theatre on 28 July 2016.

Photo: Anna Morell