Stage first for Water Babies at Leicester’s Curve Theatre

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THEATRE world premieres are few and far between, unless you’re a regular visitor to the West End.

So, it’s another East Midlands accolade for Leicester’s Curve Theatre, now celebrating its sixth year of innovation, to give a ‘stage first’ of ‘Water Babies,’ a musical and magical adventure for all the family.

The Rev Charles Kingsley’s 1863 fantasy novel -- about a boy discovering an underwater world where children are being held prisoner by an evil shark and an eel -- proved popular in Victorian times, and gained a new lease of life in the 1978 animated movie version starring James Mason, Bernard Cribbins and Billie Whitelaw.

Now, this deep sea adventure can be enjoyed in warmth and comfort at the Curve where, if the original moralising is lost, the fun is made up for with spectacular sets as orphaned hero Tom (Thomas Milner from ‘Waterloo Road’ and ‘Casualty’) escapes jail on a trumped up charge, jumping off a waterfall into the ocean’s depths.

So starts a series of challenges underwater in his bid to get back to the girl of his dreams, Ellie (Lauren Samuels returning to the Curve after her debut in ‘Peter Pan The Musical’), while waving her magic wand over the whole proceedings was acclaimed stage actress Louise Dearman as Mrs D (short for Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby), a Fairy Godmother-type character who seemed to have most of the best songs I could remember.

Music mixed with panto gave some great scenes for the “baddie” of the piece, an eel played by Tom Lister (Carl King from ‘Emmerdale’), who often seemed upstaged by a triple treat of comic crustacean characters featuring a swordfish, lobster and seahorse (played, respectively, by Tom Davey, Andy Gray and Samuel Holmes) who defied the pressures of the deep to cycle around the seabed with some of the best lines of the show.

There are also some apt words from the ever-busy actor Richard E. Grant as the Adult Kraken, a sort of underwater elder, towards the finale, but I felt a little cheated that his role (which isn’t in the book) was reduced to a voiceover accompaniment to a hologram,

The jury’s still out on whether this musical adventure will be heading for the West End, but if you want the make up your own mind the show is on at the Curve until Saturday 17th May. Further details of tickets (£15 to £35.50) and show times from the Curve on 0116-242-3595 or the website at www.curveonline.co.uk