An enchanting tale for all ages

Claire Redcliffe as Charlotte in Charlotte's Web
Claire Redcliffe as Charlotte in Charlotte's Web

THEatregoers of all ages will be enchanted by Derby Theatre’s choice for a festive show this year, a musical adaptation of EB White’s much-loved tale Charlotte’s Web.

The co-production between Derby Theatre and Birmingham Stage Company features a hard-working and talented cast of eight, a book by Joseph Robinette, and music and lyrics by Charles Strouse, whose other musical scores include Annie.

Charlotte’s Web was first published 60 years and concerns Wilbur the pig, saved from a certain fate of becoming a selection of rashers and bangers by his friend Charlotte the spider, who weaves a selection of words in praise of Wilbur on her web, turning the young pig into something of a celebrity.

This production, directed Roger Haines, rattles along at a good pace so there is little chance of young audience members getting fidgety and the songs enhance rather than hinder the plot, with Strouse coming up with a simple but effective score.

On a sloping stage featuring a selection of trapdoors, the action is confined to two sets but it never feels claustrophobic and the constant movement from the cast (who all play more than one part) adds to the appeal of a tale that is sweet without ever becoming sickly, endearing without ever being sentimental.

Richard James-Neale has just the right amount of wide-eyed wonder - and sometimes piggy panic - in his winning portrayal of Wilbur, impressive Claire Redcliffe is serene and wise as the web-weaving Charlotte (in her very effective costume) and Christopher Chilton scores strongly in a number of comic supporting turns.

All in all, Charlotte’s Web hits the spot, providing a magical experience for youngsters and also a charming night out for theatregoers of a slightly older vintage.

It looks like Derby Theatre has come up with another winner to follow in the festive footsteps of past shows such as The BFG.

Charlotte’s Web is running at Derby Theatre until January 12.

Call the box office for ticket details on 01332 593939.