Review by Andrew Collins
Based On The Book & TV series by James Herriot
Adapted by Simon Stallworthy
All Creatures Great and Small now running at Theatre Royal Brighton until Saturday 7th June 2014.
All Creatures Great and Small
The name of Alf Wight may not be familiar, but the well-loved book All Creatures Great and Small, which follows the life of a newly qualified vet on his burgeoning career in rural Yorkshire certainly is. James Herriot, the named author of the book is in fact Alf Wight’s nom-de-plume. He was a Sunderland chap, born in 1916 and qualified himself as a vet in 1939 after studying at the Glasgow Veterinary School.
He spent six months working in Sunderland before giving up the city life and getting a job assisting the vet Donald Sinclair and moving to the Yorkshire Dales. It wasn’t until he was 50 and had been a practicing vet for quite some time that he decided start writing. Short stories at first, then a book series which became hugely successful based on fictionalised but truth-based tales of his life as a vet. His first two books If Only They Could Talk and It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet were re-packaged as All Creatures Great and Small in 1972.
It was made into a film in 1975, which spawned a TV series running from 1978-1990. Both very enjoyable, but I was intrigued as to how it would all transfer to the stage. Writer Simon Stallworthy has done an excellent job of adapting the book into a jolly, amusing and highly characterful play which decently captures the people from the book.
Judicious and effective set design means both the interior and exterior scenes are right next to each other, sometimes played out at once. Oliver Mellor, best known as Dr. Matt in Coronation Street, does a marvellous job playing the young and eager James Herriot who joins Siegfied Farnon’s rural vet practice. Farnon is played by Mark Curry, a familiar face from stage and screen. Curry brings a great energy to his mercurial but dedicated character as he shows Herriot the ropes, sometimes literally.
We only see one live animal on stage – understandably – live cow births being out of the question – and this is Mrs. Pumphrey’s adored and pampered small dog, Tricki-woo who proved a great hit with the audience. The marvellous Susan Penhaligon bought Mrs. Pumphrey to life in lavish exuberance, whilst also playing a second smaller part of the vet practice’s bossy and dictatorial books accountant.
Farnon’s somewhat hapless but well meaning brother, Tristan, was excellently played by Lee Latchford-Evans, providing most of the humour. The lovely Clare Buckfield carried off Herriot’s love interest, Helen Alderson very well. Michael Palmer as Helen’s father and farmer Mr. Alderson was wonderful as a dour Yorkshireman. Rob Maloney played Mr. Calvert and Harriett Hare played Emily, both fine as support actors, portraying several characters a piece.
All the cast work well together, creating a lovely sense of the book’s narrative and time period. The lighting design also adds a great deal to the play, as do the well timed sound effects for the non-visible calving scenes.
The second half worked better for me as the characters become embedded and as in the books, get to know and trust each other more as time goes on. The play has good old fashioned humour, jolly japes, lots of animal parts (described, not seen thankfully), a distressing and poignant sad scene but most importantly, a perfectly happy ending.
For fans of the books and TV series, the play very much does justice to the tales of James Herriot and is well worth going to see and those unfamiliar with his work, All Creatures Great and Small is a genuinely warming antidote to the excesses of modern TV.
Tickets are available from: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/all-creatures-great-and-small/theatre-royal-brighton/#overview_tab