Theatre Alibi’s uplifting and life-affirming adaptation of Dick King-Smith’s gripping slice of country life, The Crowstarver, makes a welcome return to Oxford Playhouse this week to wring the withers of a new generation of audiences with its depiction of nature red in tooth and claw.

Some of the largely teenage crowd cheering it to the rafters on Tuesday’s opening night were very likely present when I last saw the production in April 2006. Then it was aimed primarily at youngsters with a series of daytime performances. The revival, with Exeter Northcott Theatre and Oxford Playhouse, pitches it more widely, with a series of evening shows (plus the usual Thursday and Saturday matinées).

No one should miss the opportunity to see this remarkable production, which offers bravura performances in a variety of roles including animal ones — from five exceptionally talented actors under director Nikki Sved. Three of the quintet were present last time round, including Derek Frood who again shows his versatility with a gallery of parts that include a no-nonsense farm foreman, a malevolent schoolboy bully, an exuberant tail-wagging collie and a seemingly untameable bucking bronco.

The atmosphere of enchantment is enhanced by some brilliantly life-life puppets — a vixen and her cubs, a winsome hare — and music supplied by an onstage duo of violinist Thomas Johnson (also the composer) and pianist Charlotte Hobbs.

Adapter Daniel Jamieson has done a superb job in telling the story, which is set in rural Wiltshire in the years up to and into the Second World War, and focuses on the young ‘crowstarver’ (it means crow scarer) of the title. Abandoned as a baby, he is brought up by kindly farmworker Tom (Michael Wagg) and his childless wife Kathie (Jordan Whyte). Spider is portrayed in all stages of development by Malcolm Hamilton in a numinous performance that shows us first the crawling infant, then the fractured, tongue-tied adolescent he becomes.

Loveable — and loved — he proves to have an astonishing rapport with animals. These include the aforementioned bronco, acquired by the kind-hearted, upper-crust farm owner Mrs Yorke (Cerianne Roberts) when a Wild West show returns to the States on the outbreak of war.

Sad though its ending is, the play could never be called sentimental. As I said, see it.

Box office: 01865 305305 (