Dr Dolittle (UK Tour): Churchill Theatre, Bromley
Reviewed 17th November 2018
The eagerly awaited new musical Dr Dotlittle by Leslie Bricusse is back and touring the UK. Based on the popular 1967 film with Rex Harrison, Dr Dolittle follows the eccentric Dr Dolittle on his exciting journey along with his human companions and his exotic menagerie of animal friends on an outrageous adventure to find the Giant Pink Sea Snail, that holds the secret of life and making the world a happier place. Doctor Dolittle teaches us not only to talk to the animals but to listen to them as well! This exciting musical adventure is from the producers of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and The Addams Family. With outstanding puppetry, a large, talented cast and fantastic music this is sure to be a family hit.
The set, designed by Tom Piper, is a brilliant representation of the classic children’s books with the backdrops and set pieces being made to look like pages of a story. This clever and novel approach stands out from usual set designs and feels completely in keeping with this show. With even Dr Dolittle’s house and boat being constructed from books the theme is carried on throughout the production. The puppets and puppetry, by Nick Barnes and Jimmy Grimes, is outstanding. Again the puppets, at times, look as though they are constructed of origami card and their movements are intricate and subtle. It is fantastic to see puppets being used rather than costumes and really makes the animals into characters only their own right. The ensemble cast members who take on various roles throughout the show must be commended for their puppetry skills! Polynesia, voiced cleverly by Vicky Entwistle, moves characterfully and gracefully from the outset and all of the animal movements have been thought of from the excitable chimpanzee, Chee Chee, to Dr Dolittle’s trustworthy dog, Jip. The cleverly designed puppets will impress both children and adults in the audience as they bring each animal to life.
Mark Williams is a perfect Dr Dolittle. Whilst his vocals may not be the strongest he certainly makes up for this with his fantastic characterisation and commitment. It is easy to believe he is the eccentric vet who finds it easier to talk to animals than to humans as he commands the audience’s attention. Patrick Sullivan’s Matthew Mugg is brilliant. His vocals are crisp and clear and compliment Mollie Melia-Redgrave’s vocals effortlessly particularly during their duet ‘Something in Your Smile’. Mollie’s powerful soprano voice is shown off beautifully in ‘You’re Impossible’ and ‘Beautiful Things’. Adele Anderson makes a great Lady Bellowes during the first act, particularly during the court scene, but unfortunately during the second act her character Poison Arrow lacks passion and her vocals do not match the pantomime villain character. However it is the energetic ensemble cast who truly deserve the most praise. Without this large ensemble team there would be no show. They are constantly on stage taking on various roles and their puppetry skills are second-to-none.
The direction by Christopher Renshaw helps create a fresh, new musical which will be enjoyed by children and adults. There are many witty one-liners aimed at the older members of the audience whilst the sheer visual appeal of the puppets and colourful settings will be enough to entertain the younger members. This musical tells the story of Dr Dolittle clearly and even those who have no prior knowledge of the story will find themselves enjoying the easy to follow plot line. During the first act the show moves at a good pace with some stand out scenes such as the circus scene where the choreography by Josh Rhodes is used to good effect. Throughout the show the choreography is energetic and does not feel forced or shoe-horned in. However the second act doesn’t feel so polished and loses pace slightly with some scenes lacking emotion and impact. Unfortunately the final battle with Poison Arrow feels lacklustre and could definitely do with some work. But it must be noted that this is a brand new version of this musical and since previews it has already been through numerous rewrites so given time hopefully issues such as this will be ironed out.
Whilst Dr Dolittle needs some tightening up, particularly in the second act, overall this is a brilliant new musical. The puppetry alone makes this production a worthwhile visit to the theatre and the clever set makes it stand out from the crowd. With its fun storyline, enchanting characters and outstanding range of animals it is sure to enthral audiences.
Dr Dolittle continues to play at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley until the 24th November before embarking on a UK Tour until November 2019. For tickets to see this show at Bromley click here. To find out more about the show and for further tour dates and venues click here.
Photo Credit: Alastair Muir