Mr Popper’s Penguins, Criterion Theatre, review: ‘Heartwarming wholesome family fare’

08:00 29 December 2016

Russell Morton (Mr Popper), Toby Manley (Male Puppeteer), Lucy Grattan (Female Puppeteer) & Roxanne Palmer (Mrs Popper). Picture: Helen Murray.

Russell Morton (Mr Popper), Toby Manley (Male Puppeteer), Lucy Grattan (Female Puppeteer) & Roxanne Palmer (Mrs Popper). Picture: Helen Murray.

© Copyright Helen Murray 2015

This charming musical version is populated by jaunty puppets and there’s much fun as the Captain takes up residence in the fridge and gulps down the goldfish.

Richard and Florence Atwater’s children’s novel was filleted for a 2011 movie which co-opted the arrival of penguins into the New York apartment of Jim Carrey’s heartless property developer into the usual Hollywood redemptive arc.

But the 1938 original is an altogether gentler tale of a penniless house painter who dreams of Antarctic adventures from the safe suburban surroundings of Stillwater.

With his bow tie, trimmed moustache and rolled up trousers Russell Morton’s Mr Popper is a dead ringer for a Hoxton hipster, and has an appealing naivety as he writes to explorer Admiral Drake and receives in return a box containing Captain Cook the penguin.

This charming musical version is populated by jaunty puppets and there’s much fun as the Captain takes up residence in the fridge and gulps down the goldfish. Roxanne Palmer’s buttoned up Mrs Popper thaws out to the little fella’s charms, despite her house being turned into a skating rink. But when London Zoo sends a female penguin, the resulting rash of babies threatens to bankrupt the Poppers, until a scheme to turn them into a stage act yields success. Tumbling, acrobatics and being fired from a cannon, it’s a feat for the talented puppeteers but lest you fear animal exploitation, Mr Popper’s dreams finally come true in a way that’s also a perfect fit for his penguin friends. Cue a flurry of fake snow from the heavens and a much needed spot of audience interaction to learn a penguin dance.

With its old world charm and Luke Bateman and Richy Hughes’ melodic songs, this is heartwarming wholesome family fare, if a little light on plot and thrills to always grip the younger audience member’s concentration.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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