It was always going to be difficult adapting six books and an entire BBC TV series to fit a two-hour stage slot, especially when it’s something as well loved as James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small.
But the production by Simon Stallworthy which arrived for a week’s run in Cambridge last night put to rest all my trepidations, presenting a warm, funny and honourable interpretation of these wise and wonderful stories.
Arriving in the Yorkshire Dales as a newly qualified vet, James Herriot discovers he has everything to prove if he’s to ingratiate himself amongst the gruff, wary farmers of this close-knit community.
Not to mention keeping on the right side of his contradictory boss Siegfried, dodging the pranks of Siegfried’s younger layabout brother Tristan and putting his heart and dignity on the line to win the clever, pretty Helen Alderson from the farm up the road.
Into the role of James steps Oliver Mellor, a familiar face for Coronation Street fans and who brings the perfect doses of likeability, vulnerability and comic timing to the role of our fish-out-of-water hero. He’s supported by a superb and versatile cast including Mark Curry as Siegfried and Steps’ Lee Latchford-Evans making a well-calculated jump from popstar to thesp as Tristan.
Between them, the rest of the cast bring to life a spectrum of fabulous characters including the indomitable Mrs Pumphrey, while a show-stealing performance comes from the exceedingly well-behaved Charlie as her pampered pup, Tricky Woo. “When he begs for his little tidbits, I just can’t refuse him!” she bemoans. Who could?
As well as plenty of giggles about impacted anal glands and cows being struck by lightning, there’s a big heart at the centre of this lovesong to Yorkshire, its people and its beasts; never more poignant than in the tender scene with an old man and his old, faithful dog (if you’ve recently lost a pet, maybe pop out to the bar for this bit).
As all eyes turn to Yorkshire this week for the arrival of the Tour de France, I can think of no better way to celebrate the rugged majesty of this splendid land than by revisiting James Herriot’s charming stories, which are as beautiful and enduring as the hills they describe.
All Creatures Great and Small, Cambridge Arts Theatre, until 5 July (7.45pm; tickets from £15).