In what could possibly be described as a well-appointed garden shed, you see Miss Potter sitting drawing at her table. Some volunteers are called for, and arranged in a familiar pose: crouching, hands by the side of their heads, they are named Flopsie, Mopsie and Cotton-tail. And thus the story begins. This touching musical tells of Beatrix Potter's life, from that first letter to an ill child, through to her settling-down in the Lake District on the farm that she loved.
Though based around a children's book, and rated "U" in the programme, to my mind this isn't really a children's show. The style and rhythm of the piece are well-suited for interested grown-ups - especially if they don't mind some audience participation. But I don't think it has quite the same appeal to younger audiences; though they will enjoy seeing the tales come to life, the more mature themes of love, loss and rebuilding will not have the same resonance for them.
Accompanied by beautiful music and singing, we see the actors switch between characters in life and in the tales, with just a few props for illustration. As we see her seek to publish Peter Rabbit, the earnest encouragement of Nöel (the boy in receipt of that original letter), the uncertainty of her parents, and the care of her editor Mr Warne are all explored. However, the success of her first book is by no means the end of the story; I particularly enjoyed watching the process of writing and illustrating The Tale of the Two Bad Mice with a real mouse, a doll's house and a few doubting looks.
The energy and caricature shown when portraying her stories is balanced well by the calmness of her letter exchanges. The real-life people are well-portrayed, and I found the development of the relationship between Beatrix and Norman Warne particularly touching; I shed a tear at the end of their engagement, and as she rebuilt her life among the people of the Lakes.
Clever use of fruit boxes, accessories, and a washing line allow the setting and story to flow, with dance-like scene changes accompanying the music and complementing the cosy and intimate setting. All in all, this is a well-judged and heart-warming musical, where music and acting combine to make an endearing tale also very moving.