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Babe, The Sheep-Pig

by on 9 December 2021

Don’t Judge a Sausage by Its Skin

Babe, The Sheep-Pig

by Dick King-Smith, adapted by David Wood

Progress Company at Progress Theatre, Reading until 11th December

Review by Nick Swyft

This is not the 1995 Hollywood spectacular.  It is far better.  In the film, all the animals were played by…  well animals, supplemented by the voices of real actors and some CGI.  Here they were played by real people, wearing beautiful animal masks made by the director Beckie Moir (look out for the cockerel in particular).

The plot of Babe, The Sheep-Pig follows the adventures of Babe (Milly Allen), who is won at a fair by the bland Farmer Hogget (Guy Nichols).  There are some great asides from Mrs Hogget (Michelle Appleby) who thinks that he is to be fattened up to provide their Christmas dinner.

He is adopted by the sheepdog Fly (Amelia Sammons) and brought up alongside her pups, who tease him, telling him he’s stupid, though we learn in due course that pigs are actually very intelligent animals.  Here we have an object lesson in how to treat individuals who are different from community norms.  Babe wants to follow in Fly’s footsteps and become a sheepdog, except he’s a pig!

Although nobody, least of all Fly, believes in him, Babe comes through.  Milly Allen does an excellent job in playing the shy nervous piglet who finds his niche, eventually getting invited into the house to watch TV with Fly and Farmer Hogget – not as Christmas dinner – to become Fly’s successor.

Things start to change for him when he encounters the senior ewe Ma (Heather Eley), suffering alone from foot rot.  Ma doesn’t like dogs, and sees no difference between them and wolves.  They become friends and she teaches Babe how to really manage sheep, gaining their trust, rather than intimidating them as Fly does.

Thus Babe becomes a really successful sheep pig, with more help from Fly and the audience, so much so that Farmer Hogget enters him into the televised sheepdog trials.  Perhaps whether he wins or not is too much of a spoiler!?

This production was all but ready to be staged when lockdown happened and the theatres were closed.  With Progress open again, happily in time for its 75th year, it was necessary to recast many of the parts, as many of the original actors have moved on.  Congratulations are therefore in order to the cast and crew for picking up the ball and producing an amazing performance.

Nick Swyft, December 2021

Photography by Richard Brown

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