With a suitably gruesome beginning where a tiny bluebird meets a sad (and violent) end, it’s clear Sam Halcroft’s adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox is unafraid to grapple with some of Dahl’s more grisly themes from the book. The story, familiar to most, follows the tale (and the tail) of the fantastic Fox of the title. Fox is a bit of a rogue with a big heart, who each night steals the plentiful food from three greedy and grotesque farmers in the valley below, Boggis, Bunce and Bean. He takes it all back to his faithful community of animal friends, sharing it amongst them all, and telling his exciting tales in the process. But when the farmer’s decide to take action and manage to shoot off his beautifully bushy tail, Mr Fox has to learn a sharp lesson about working as a team.
Tom Scutt’s design is a colourful affair, filled with interesting textures and over-sized props. The costumes are clever sports-wear inspired representations of each animal, from Rabbit’s slinky leotard, to Fox’s swanky tracksuit. It’s a refreshing style for the tale and works well. (Although, it seems a shame this isn’t quite reflected in the artwork for the show.) Meanwhile, the set is a swirling, turning pile of cylinders, handily standing in for fox hole, underground cellar, prison cell and more, whilst many of the props are vibrant and cartoon-y versions of the real thing. A huge clutch of comedy rubber chickens is enough to tell us we’re at Boggis’ farm, whilst garishly green bottles are used for Bean’s infamous cider. Rocks are represented by spikey foam balls, and rubber piping becomes a thick forest. It’s conceptual, and probably not for everyone, but bravo to the creative team for branching out. It all becomes a bit of a playground for the energetic cast, who seem to be have lots of fun, running, jumping, gurning and shouting all over it. Maria Aberg’s direction is a joyful romp, and there’s plenty to keep the mind and eye occupied throughout.
In fact, it is this infectious enthusiasm that lures the family audience in. The text is ‘adult’ enough that the grown-ups are having as much fun as the kids, and the characters are engaging and endearing to the younger audience members (although I’m unsure if anyone under 7 would follow much of the action.) There’s a solid message about working together to achieve your goals, which thankfully isn’t too saccharine, mostly thanks to Arthur Darvill’s funky music and his team of clever lyricists. In fact, the music, from the close harmony bluebirds to the funky soul of Boggis, Bunce and Bean getting their inner-fox on, is consistently amusing throughout. In particular, a short section from Rabbit (a terrifically hyper Sandy Foster) about what she does in her spare time is… Well, let’s just say, it had the mum’s laughing. Loudly. For a long time.
Greg Barnett is indeed, a fantastic Fox, winking to the audience with a delightful devil-may-care attitude. His swagger never seems to sway into a hateful arrogance, and Barnett seems to have a blast leaping, rolling and soulfully singing about eagles. Richard Atwill is also terrific as his nemesis the hideous Farmer Bean, and is also super fun to watch as a rather sozzled Rat. Great turns also from Lillie Flynn as the resourceful Mrs Fox and Kelly Jackson is wonderful as Mouse – adorably twitchy nosed one minute, and furiously shouting her head off the next.
Although some scenes (and some songs) do drag on slightly longer than needed, the piece has enough bright moments to pull the audience through. The real treat here is the entire cast, who work their socks and sweatbands off to provide an energetic and enjoyable show.
Fantastic Mr Fox
Milton Keynes Theatre
7th March – 11th March 2017
Then continuing on tour. Details at -
© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Tuesday 8th March, 2017.