The beloved children's book Charlotte's Web by E B White did for spiders exactly what he did for mice with Stuart Little. If the seismic chattering in the Citizens' Theatre during its current production of White's classic is anything to go by, then it seems that every child knows the heart-warming tale (and most of the lines) of the spider who helps her piggy friend avoid the frying pan by spinning words miraculously in her web for credulous human benefit.
As the audience fights its way into the auditorium, a rag-tag band of musicians play a quirky, gypsy-style tune - so catchy, indeed, that it shows up the rather mundane collection of songs that follows. But if the writing is forgettable, the execution is far from it - a well-drilled cast of actors and puppets getting down to the barnyard beat with more than enough anthropomorphic cuddliness to put you off Christmas dinner.
Working inventively with Joseph Robinette's stage adaptation, the artistic director Jeremy Raison opens the play proper in the dead of night, as puppet animals scuffle, flutter and hiss in the dark of the barnyard; a brief hiatus in a pacey mix of slapstick and neat choreography. Indeed, the puppets, headed up by a trio of mice commenting on the action like a falsetto Greek chorus, balance out the rather Balamory cutesiness of the rest of the production.
Kenny Miller's delightfully inventive set relocates the action from America to a Highland show, complete with more than a wee dram of whisky. And Raison's painterly touch for changes of pace keep this tale fresh for the knowing hordes in the stalls. Tom Freeman is touching as Wilbur the pig, and Veronica Leer, as Charlotte - whose singing voice is uncannily like the ex-Catatonia front woman Cerys Matthews - is excellent.
Raison might be averse to standard seasonal fare - last year, he chose The Borrowers - but there are enough elements of the season of goodwill to make this a more than appropriate offering. And if you take home only one thing from this jolly production - don't forget your kids - it's that you shouldn't judge a critter by the number of legs it's got.
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