Northern Ballet’s Tortoise and the Hare is a sunny, sporty, springtime delight.
Northern Ballet’s latest family-friendly production is a take on Aesop’s beloved fable Tortoise and the Hare. The show adds to the company’s growing repertoire of short story ballets, which have been carefully concocted with younger audience members in mind.
Previous successes Ugly Duckling, Three Little Pigs and Elves and the Shoemaker captivated theatregoers nationwide and were made into popular television adaptations. As a result, my expectations are high for Tortoise and the Hare (currently on tour) and Goldilocks and the Three Bears (recently announced as the fifth show in the series).
Fortunately, Tortoise and the Hare has also been filmed for the small screen and it made its television debut on CBeebies this morning. Unsurprisingly, it proved to be the perfect Easter Monday pick-me-up.
We all know the tale. Once upon a time, there was a speedy Hare who was always boasting about how fast he could run. One day, Tortoise boldly accepts the challenge to race him but the Hare scoffs that he is the slowest creature in the world and hardly a worthy competitor. No one expects the slowcoach Tortoise to win, but life is full of surprises!
Choreographers Dreda Blow and Sebastian Loe capture the essence of a menagerie of wonderful woodland creatures with expertly-woven snippets of varied and vivacious dance vocabulary in Tortoise and the Hare. The overconfident Hare (dancer Riku Ito in the CBeebies cast) has hasty hops and energetic leaps and does plenty of pompous posturing too. Meanwhile, the slow and steady Tortoise (Sebastian Loe) repeatedly rolls his neck and shrugs his shoulders, and finds himself spinning on his shell numerous times before eventually finding the determination to come out of it! Their racing efforts are supported by a pair of bonny bunny cheerleaders (Jennifer Hackwell and Antonio Mannino), who shake their carrot pom-poms with amusing aplomb.
Once the race begins, the easily-distracted Hare encounters a buzzing ballerina Bee (Jennifer Hackwell – again!) who offers him an energising taste of yummy honey. Precise pointe work and sharp shoulder shimmies remind us that – although she is enchanting to watch – there is a sting in her tail. Later, a Squirrel (Archie Sullivan) astonishes the reigning race champion with his athletic antics (expect lots of acorn throwing and catching) and a beautiful Butterfly (Natalia Kerner) further diverts the Hare’s progress when she floats gracefully around a garden of blossoms. Tortoise, on the other hand, keeps his goal in sight and – with the loyal support of his mate Molly the Mole (Victoria Sibson) – decides that he is in this race to win!
This colourful dance production is guaranteed to have every member of the family cheering the competitors on. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed characters; endearing costumes and sets; super storytelling; ace tricks and, of course, top-notch dancing are definitely a winning combination in Northern Ballet’s Tortoise and the Hare.
The CBeebies adaptation is presented by children’s television favourite Mr Bloom (Ben Faulks) and features a group of children (collectively known as ‘the Tiddlers’) who interact with each other and contribute in small ways to the story as it develops. Their undeniable pleasure when seeing the dancers perform is heartening and the dancing itself remains the central focus throughout. The whole ethos of the CBeebies collaboration reflects Northern Ballet’s intention to devise productions that offer a more relaxed feel and enable people who perhaps would not normally attend the theatre or watch ballet to experience the magic of the arts for the first time.
By the time the unlikely race rivals reached the finish line I found myself dashing to my laptop to spread the word about the show as a fine example of eggs-cellent Easter entertainment. In fact, just like chocolate, it is a sweet treat that can be enjoyed by anyone, any time!
Hop to it and reserve your space on the sofa for the replay this teatime. Better yet, book tickets for a performance at a theatre near you and revel in the action live.
*Production photography by Brian Slater.
Northern Ballet’s Tortoise and the Hare races to Milton Keynes Theatre for two performances on Friday 29 April 2016. Tickets are £8 and the performance lasts approximately 45 minutes.
The CBeebies adaptation airs again at 5pm today (Easter Monday 2016) and will be available on BBC iPlayer.
Georgina Butler is an editor, a dance writer and a ballet teacher.