Dolittle's two hours of sheer magic

Doctor Dolitte @ Theatre Royal, Norwich

Doctor Dolitte @ Theatre Royal, Norwich

By CHARLES ROBERTS

There's a well-founded old theatrical saying which advises actors never to work with children or animals.

In one sense, the advice is resoundingly proven in this magical, uplifting show. In another it is quite the contrary, for the ranks of animated animals who appear in Doctor Dolittle become so real, so full of character, so – dare one say it? – human, that they and humankind become one happy family.

This is a show to charm and attract every age group, for it is heart-warming, funny, full of surprises and marvellous to look at (the lighting and effects both deserve awards).

It moves at an exhilarating pace, its company responding with spirit and verse to Steven Pimlott's direction. Its music may not be remarkable but it is never less than foot-tapping and irresistibly involving.

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And it's not too much to say that, through its happy mix of musical and pantomime, humour and story, it is on different levels a very “green” show, even an environmental one. Animals are part of our planet, it declares, and humans have a responsibility to cherish them. “Treating animals like people is not madness or disgrace,” sings the good Doctor.

By the time final curtain comes, it's difficult not to believe it!

Phillip Schofield is Dolittle, elegant, poised, the polished cog around which all turns, and handling “songs with a message” with easy charm. The romance element is provided by Kathleen Schueppert, who sings with a lilt and colour which remind one of Julie Andrews' beguiling style in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.

Then come the animals – and the all-important parrot, Polynesia, who lives through vibrant puppetry, and the voice of the aforementioned Miss Andrews. If the parrot is the wise eminence of the piece, Gub-Gub the pig is fall-guy, comic and cynical commentator, realised with a touch of animated genius by Robert Skidmore.

If “Dulux dogs” charm you irresistibly, look no further than Jip, created by Muhsin Nouri with an eloquence of movement which speaks volumes. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening, is The Great Snail, a mighty beast who makes a terrific entrance, stays long enough to beguile with a yard-wide smile, then backs out with a final lisp – and still we don't know whether he's electronic or puppet-powered. In common with the prevailing magic of this show, it really doesn't matter. For he too is one of the family.

Doctor Dolittle runs for three weeks. Bring the children, bring grandad, bring a mind open to childhood wonder.

Either way, you won't regret this two hours and more of sheer magic.