JOYCE MCMILLAN on HAIRY MACLARY AND FRIENDS at Howden Park Centre, Livingston, for The Scotsman 20.7.11
3 stars ***
MOST OF THE CHILDREN in the audience know the outline of the story already. They know about Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy, the scruffy, naughty, good-hearted wee black dog whose adventures form the centre of the story. And they know about all of his five cheerfully rhyming friends – from the great dane Hercules Morse (as big as a horse) to the dachshund Schnitzel von Krumm (with a very low tum).
Their familiarity with the characters is a tribute to the huge popularity of Lynley Dodds’s little Hairy Maclary books for toddlers, with their simple, satisfying short stories all recounted in the kind of verse that encourages kids just learning language to revel in its rhythms and patterns. And it’s a mark of the success of Nonsenseroom Productions’s current touring version – now heading for St. Andrews – that it taps instantly into this endless supply of goodwill towards Hairy Maclary and his mates.
The show is a long way from perfection, for reasons that probably have to do with budget constraints. It certainly needs a movement director, to introduce a slightly more dog-like shape and rhythm to the prancing and scampering of the cast members playing the dogs; and some of the costumes don’t look quite right – Hercules Horse, for example, is just the wrong colour.
From the moment that Carrie Mancini’s cheerful Miss Plum steps in front of the audience, though, and starts to talk about her cheeky, lovable little dog, the audience knows it is in safe hands, so far as the important aspects of the story are concerned. There’s some fine use of old-fashioned pantomime tricks to draw the audience into the story, and each little yarn is told in a jolly, rhythmic song; and when, after 55 minutes, the show came to an end, one little girl behind me just burst into tears, wailing that she didn’t want it to end at all.