Sunday, 26 November 2017

REVIEW: The Gruffalo's Child at the Lyric Theatre

Tall Stories Theatre Company describes itself as a producer that brings great stories to life for audiences of all ages but many of its shows are targeted at young children (who bring their parents or grandparent to the show). In its latest production Gruffalo’s Child which now shares a stage with the evening productions of Thriller, it is following up on the success of The Gruffalo (which is still on tour) and directly targeting small children from 3 to 7. It brings to life the cartoon characters created in picture book form by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. It was clear, even before the show started that the audience was very familiar with the characters and that excitement levels and anticipation was high despite the early 10 am start!

The simple open stage bathed in a blue wash with a large white moon peeping over the stylised trees immediately transported the children to the deep dark wood where the creatures live and the children were speculating where the mouse, snake and owl would appear from. As the house lights dimmed three expressive young actors bounced onto stage and began to narrate the simple cautionary tale. They then, over the course of the 55 minutes running time, use movement, song, mime and clever costume tweaks to create the story book creatures to varying degrees of success.

The Gruffalo himself is played by Andrew Mudie but it a curious decision to anchor him to a rock so that he does not moves around the stage unless pushed on it. This restricts the actor’s scope but nevertheless attracted a few cries of “I don’t like it” from some in the audience although this quickly subsided into enthralled restrained observation. Mudie is given much more scope when he creates the other characters, the predators, who we meet. The snake in a simple spotty shirt slithers on two legs around the stage, the Fox, in red tailcoat, prances menacingly and the owl, in a feathered jacket, gently flits into centre stage.

The shows eponymous character is played by Sophie Alice and she captures the childlike enthusiasm, energy and fearless naivety as she explores the deep dark wood and meets the creatures while in search of the Big Bad Mouse.

The third member of the cast is Catriona Mackenzie who acts as the main narrator and then becomes the Mouse with a simple costume adjustment and uses mime very effectively to suggest movement of some of the characters.

Ultimately the show’s success comes from it audience engagement and
interaction and the charming threesome frequently break the fourth wall to gently coax the audience into a reaction. This is not the raucous shouts outs of pantomime but light hearted gentle fun. It is interesting to see the audience softly and willingly respond and then in a surprisingly disciplined way fall silent again as the action continues.

Original music has been created for the show by Jon Fiber, Andy Shaw and Olivia Jacobs with the most successful number, I could sell, a fun Ska music style song which has the trio skanking across the forestage.

The end result is a charming, daft little story, engagingly delivered that stays true to the original books but offers young children a perfect first taste of live theatre.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★
Blog Design by pipdig