'The Gruffalo' by Tall Stories – Theatre Review

Full disclosure: I LOVE The Gruffalo. I think I was even more excited than my three year old companion as we made our way to the Lyric to see Tall Stories well-received and clever production.

As with any adaptation of a children’s book, the tricky business is transforming a 5 minute book into a longer performance – particularly challenging if your source material is one of the most well-known and oft-quoted children’s books around. Tall Stories are masters of the art and have managed to create a magical journey into the “deep dark wood” last just under an hour. Filled with some standard clowning and pantomime gags, more dad-jokes than you can shake a stick at, and some pretty, gentle songs to jolly everything along, I can confirm it was an hour well spent.

The tension in the theatre was palpable as we took our seats. Little Gruffalos all over the theatre were anxiously asking their ‘big, ugly ones’ who had bought them when The Gruffalo himself was going to appear. But, we would all have to wait for the big guy as we gazed at the set in anticipation. The woodland set was functional but still retained an element of charm here and there. I was particularly fond of a butterfly puppet that flitted between the trees periodically, only to camouflage itself back into leaves. Sweet little touches like these make all the difference.

For those unfamiliar with the tale, we follow our brave and clever protagonist Mouse on her adventure through the woods. On this date, Mouse was played by a charming Angela Laverick who managed to keep everything ticking along nicely, complete with an adorable wiggly nose and quick little eyes.

Mouse is on a quest through the wood to find a nut (helped by some friendly stage narrators and her trusty ‘Nut Map.’) But little does she know, the woods can be full of danger round every turn, and she meets a cheeky chappie Fox, a drill-sergeant Owl and a hip-swinging, maraca-wielding Snake along the way. But Mouse is a clever creature and tricks them all by inventing a horrible monster called a Gruffalo. Little does she know, there’s something with terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws stirring in the woods…

Charlie Guest does a brilliant job at swinging between narrator and the three distinct predator characters, and manages to keep the grown-ups in the audience entertained too. The ‘big, ugly ones’ will smile at the Madness inspired Fox’s song, enjoy the ornithological jokes bandied about by Owl, and Mum’s everywhere will surely delight in the Strictly-inspired Spanish Snake and his slithering about the stage. That is of course, if they are not too busy placating the young ones desperate to see The Gruffalo! By the time Snake appears, anyone familiar with the tale knows he is coming soon, so it’s a little sad that some of the nuance here gets lost – particularly as it’s one of the funniest bits!

Still it is this tension that drives the show, and makes the reveal all the more exciting. The utterly brilliant Aaron Millard played The Gruffalo on this date, as well as an engaging and eager narrator before his big appearance. Millard shows great physical skill throughout and his huge facial expressions and childlike enjoyment can be read right to the back of the theatre. When The Gruffalo runs scared from the Mouse into the audience, those of a nervous disposition might have panicked a bit, but it certainly seemed to go down well and was a fun moment to draw our adventure to a close. It was also wonderful to see the cast really enjoying themselves in this show, interacting with the audience and each other, bandying jokes back and forth like only a close ensemble can.

My three year old companion watched wide-eyed for the most part and seemed to especially enjoy the Fox winding up his cast mates(!) He was somewhat reluctant to join in with the shouting out (must be incredibly well-trained for the theatre already!) and seemed a little bored in places, but he assured me “it was good” and I should tell others to go and see the show. So you should. The joy of this production is it is quite genuinely a fun hour for all the family. I guarantee even the gruffest of grown-up Gruffalos would find something to enjoy here, whether the songs, the gags or simply the infectious reactions from their true target audience. In short; we took a stroll through the deep, dark wood. We saw a show, and the show was good.

The Gruffalo
London
The Lyric Theatre
1st July – 6th Sept, 2015

Credits

Cast

The Gruffalo – Aaron Millard
Mouse – Angela Laverick
Predators – Charlie Guest

Crew

Director – Olivia Jacobs
Creative Producer – Toby Mitchell
Associate Director – Luanna Priestman
Designer – Isla Shaw
Costume Supervisor – Lisa Aitkin
Lighting Designer – James Whiteside
Chroreographer – Morag Cross
Music & Lyrics – Jon Fiber, Olivia Jacobs, Robin Prince and Andy Shaw

Tall Stories
www.tallstories.org.uk
http://www.lyrictheatrelondon.co.uk

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Tuesday 28th July, 2015.

The Gruffalo returns to the Lyric Theatre London on July 6th 2016, for an extended run. Please see link for up-to-date information on the upcoming production of The Gruffalo, including how to get to the theatre and tickets:
http://www.lyrictheatrelondon.co.uk/

Author's review: 
4