“Welcome to Stillwater” proclaims a banner at the start of Mr Popper’s Penguins, “The Town Where Everyone Will Fit In.” Eccentricity is embraced and celebrated in Stillwater, the home of Mr Popper (Will Kelly) and his wife (Monica Nash). That’s great news for Mr Popper, as he’s an interesting sort. A painter and decorator by trade, he has a keen interest in wildlife from the South Pole and strikes up a long-distance friendship with polar expert Admiral Drake. When Drake sends him a surprise package, the lives of the Popper family change forever.

In adapting Richard and Florence Atwater’s storybook, Pins and Needles Productions have retained the 1930s setting of the Minnesota-set original, but they have given the show a British makeover. Kelly’s Mr Popper is a bumbling English gent while Nash’s Mrs Popper has a firm yet fair briskness in the manner of Mary Poppins. A retro feel is effectively evoked through a minimal set of 1930s furniture. Props are used cleverly as the narrative evolves: a sheet doubles as wallpaper and snowy ground and even the goldfish bowl adds to the merriment. Meanwhile, well-chosen accessories transform the cast into an array of supporting characters, with the highlights being Benedict Chambers’ brash theatre-owner Mr Greenbaum and Susanna Jennings’ Admiral Drake. It’s impressive how the cast of four make this feel like a much larger production.

Perhaps that has something to do with the penguins. There are an awful lot of penguins! The penguins come in many guises and sizes, utilising Pins and Needles’ characteristic puppetry to its fullest. It’s lovely to hear little voices in the audience rejoice as the penguins casually destroy the Poppers’ suburban house and nip Mrs Popper’s bottom.

Pins and Needles have a clear understanding of what works for children – the 65-minute running time and fast pace give little opportunity for restlessness, while the cast members are energetic and engaging. Monica Nash (as Mrs Popper) stands out during the musical numbers with the highlight being the catchy “I’ve Got the Chills for You.” This is an excellent production that fully deserves a warm reception.

Mr Popper’s Penguins is running at Sale Waterside Arts until Tuesday 31 December. Show times vary.

Tickets are available HERE

British Sign Language (BSL) performances: Saturday 14 December at 11:00

Relaxed Performance : Saturday 14 December at 11:00

Photo credit: Jason Lock

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