Based on the books by: James Herriot
Adaptor/Director: Simon Stallworthy
Reviewer: Ian Cain
The tender and heart-warming tales, chronicling the adventures of a vet working in the North Yorkshire Moors became a classic television series that ran for twelve years when the BBC based ‘All Creatures Great &Small’ on the first two novels written by James Herriot, ‘If Only They Could Talk’ and ‘It Shouldn’t Happen To A Vet’.
Now, for the first time ever, these stories have been brought to the stage in an adaptation by Simon Stallworthy for The Gala Theatre in Durham.
When newly qualified vet, James Herriot (Ben Ingles), arrives in the small North Yorkshire village of Darrowby to take up his first job in the established veterinary practice of Siegried Farnon (Henry Everett), he has no idea of the adventures that await him.
With the country-folk’s inherent suspicion of strangers and their treatment of sick animals rooted firmly in the past, James faces many challenges to win over the villagers of Darrowby. But through his good humour and skill with all manner of animal ailments, the country vet soon becomes a central part of their lives and forges friendships which will last a lifetime.
This production faithfully recreates and captures the laughter, joy and magic of the original novels and the subsequent long-running classic BBC television series. It made a refreshing change to wallow in romantic nostalgia and be transported back to a much simpler time, when life moved at a slower pace and the only thing that twittered was the birds!
Sarah Oxley has designed a beautiful set that overlooks not even the smallest of details and is extremely functional, too. The interior section was quickly able to change from the surgery of the practice to the kitchen with a neat turn of scenery, while the exterior section depicted a farmyard and country lane, complete with a good old fashioned red telephone box.
The logistical nightmares and technical difficulties associated with using real animals within the production have been avoided by the inclusion of some fairly realistic sound effects. However, while this option may have sufficed for the farmyard animals, the use of a stuffed dog to depict Tricky-Woo, the pampered pooch of the aristocratic Mrs Pumphrey, did fall slightly short.
The principal actors give good portrayals of their characters. Ben Ingles is an amiable and fresh faced James Herriot and he is the perfect foil to both Henry Everett’s ebullient Siegfried Farnon and Jack Wharrier’s work-shy Tristan. Samantha Phyllis Morris as Helen is not quite as demure as Carol Drinkwater’s interpretation of the rôle in the television series, nor is she as abrasive as Lynda Bellingham could sometimes be during her four-series tenure.
The supporting actors, consisting of Stephanie Fayerman, Scott Frazer, Rachel Gay and Mark Stratton are required to play at least three differing rôles each, some more convincingly than others.
If I were to make one minor criticism it would be that at times the pace seemed just a little too gentle and the play seemed to finish off rather abruptly instead of being brought to a natural conclusion. Overall, though, this was a piece that was totally inoffensive and received well by the first night audience.