The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show might be named exclusively after Eric Carle’s globally-famous ravenous insect, but is in fact an hour-long romp through a wider slice of the author’s imagination.
Director Jonathan Rockefeller has deployed a cast of 75 puppets and five humans (one of whom remains unseen, operating the biggest characters) to bring four of Carle’s books to life in quick succession, culminating in his best-known tale and saving the most spectacular puppet – the beautiful butterfly that the caterpillar becomes – for the finale.
There is no doubting that the show, which has already been a hit in London’s West End, New York and Australia, has perfectly captured the collage-like aesthetic of Carle’s charming books. The puppets are not the most flexible or lifelike – War Horse this aint – but they are not supposed to be. They are 3D manifestations of Carle’s illustrations, made to dance and swim and fly by the smiling puppeteers, who are dressed in the sort of white dungarees that must be mandatory kit for all children’s performers. Only the caterpillar, as befits the megastar of the piece (he has, after all, shifted more than 43 million copies since he first burst onto the children’s book scene in 1969), has the range of movement to wriggle and crawl with ease.
The whole show, in fact, felt a little bit like a pre-school version of a stadium gig. The warm-up acts – The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, Mister Seahorse and The Very Lonely Firefly – were met with applause and cheers from an audience of fidgeting children and their parents, but there was no doubting the headline act that everyone had come to see. With the caterpillar’s arrival, toddlers were truly captivated, grown-ups could cease their whispered explanations of the plots of lesser known books, and everyone could get on with chanting “But he was still hungry!” in the manner of a Robbie Williams crowd during a rendition of Angels.
None of which is to dismiss the rest of the show. The Lonely Firefly’s blinking light, the Artist’s series of colourful animal paintings that came to life in puppet form, and the bubbles that floated around the theatre as the seahorses swam on, all made little eyes light up. It’s just that the crowd were hungry for that caterpillar.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, which is aimed at children of around 2-6 years old, is at The Lowry in Salford until February 25 as part of a UK-wide tour. For tickets, see www.thelowry.com. For tour details, click here.