Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Gruffalo - The Duchess Theatre, London

The Gruffalo
Writer: Julia Donaldson
Adaptor: Tall Stories
Music: Shock Productions
Director: Olivia Jacobs
Reviewer: Deborah Klayman

Since its first incarnation in 2001, The Gruffalo has been entertaining audiences all over the globe, chalking up over 3000 performances worldwide. Returning to the West End for its third successive year, the production has lost none of its original charm, and continues to delight and excite children and adults alike.

Adapted from the extremely successful book (recently named the nation’s favourite bedtime story in a BBC Radio 2 poll), Tall Stories were faced with the daunting prospect of turning a five minute book into a fifty minute play whilst still remaining true to the essence of the story and without unduly padding it out. To say they have been successful would be a huge understatement, as the piece they are presenting stands alone, incorporating Tall Stories special brand of childrens’ theatre into the existing story: melding strong physical performances with superb costumes; oversized sets; and fun, catchy songs.

The performers are excellent – confident and versatile, with the ability to include the audience without being distracted by ‘helpful heckles’ from the younger, more enthusiastic spectators. By and large the children know the story (and text) better than anyone, so their interjections are encouraged and used to move the story along, and sometimes creating some unscripted yet hilarious comic moments.

Naomi Said is a bubbly, endearing mouse, and the audience warms to her immediately. Her physicality is strong and consistent, with lovely attention to detail. She completely avoids the pitfall of making mouse a timid character – rather she is plucky and resolute – and sings and moves extremely well. Napoleon Ryan is supremely versatile, effortlessly swapping between characters and costumes and making each one distinct and delightful. Each of the predators was presented with humour, both in characterisation and costume, but it was his rattlesnake (equipped with sparkly bolero jacket and maracas) that literally had the audience rolling in the aisles. Last but not least, Alan Park was a wonderful storyteller and Gruffalo, using his comic talent to build a rapport with the audience and add to the story as it went along, adding sound effects and amusing moments throughout. After a long build up, he re-entered as the Gruffalo, and played it to a tee – not too scary for the small children, yet enough to convincingly frighten the other characters onstage. His costume was superb, and the entire audience happily joined in with the Gruffalo song towards the end.

I always feel confident taking children to any Tall Stories show, knowing that the production values and performance levels will be high, but The Gruffalo is one that will be enjoyed by any age group, so even if you haven’t got kids I suggest you go and see it – it’ll undoubtedly be the brightest 50mins of your day!

Runs until Jan 4th 2010
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