Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear, National Theatre
PUBLISHED: 16:44 01 August 2019 | UPDATED: 16:44 01 August 2019
The Other Richard
Andy Stanton’s cult children’s books gets a colourful funny musical treatment with a geniunely bad baddie
Andy Stanton's laugh out loud children's books about a disgusting villain called Mr Gum and the surreal town of Lamonic Bibber have always been more about the wacky world and wordsmithery than the plot.
So how would their cultish humour translate into a stage musical?
The Holloway author has fashioned the book and lyrics himself and shabba me whiskers it's a yollicking ride of an anti-children's musical children's musical, packed with inventive visual and meta-theatrical gags.
For the uninitiated Polly (Keziah Joseph) is a feisty nine-year-old who regularly heads off on adventures with sherry-swilling Old Granny, eccentric Friday O'Leary (a splendid Richard Cant) and Alan Taylor a gingerbread headmaster with electric muscles.
Whem Mr Gum and his stupid sidekick Billy William run out of beer they kidnap Lamonic Bibber's newly arrived Padlock the bear to earn some cash by making him dance.
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Polly - naturally toting a moustache - must stow aboard the Nantucket Tickler helmed by mad Captain Brazil (a marvelous swivel-eyed Helena Lymbery) to get Padlock back to the land of the beasts.
Master puppeteer Jimmy Grimes and Kate Malyon create a mournfully unhappy bear and Steve Furst's dastardly Gum brings genuine nastines as he koshes her with a meat tenderiser and carts her off to perform under the lash.
Gary Wilmot's gigantic Jonathan Ripples spends most of the show aloft on a round the world balloon trip to sample international snacks but turns out to be a deus ex machina who rescues Polly when Brazil makes them walk the plank.
From a dance routine involving giant snacks, to a trio of tatooed pirates unwilling to be stereotyped to Billy William begging young audience members for beer and a continuity joke involving a bucket of water, director Amy Hodge and cast are clearly enjoying themselves.
Although there's a decent message about cruelty to animals and the importance of frienship it's as far from the Disney schmaltz as you could hope - more Dahl meets Blackadder meets Python with a hefty wallop of wholly original Stanton.
At one point Mr Gum sends the band off so he can hog the spotlight and there's even a ballad that goes 'this is the saddest song in the show'.
But Jim Fortune's music is the only bum note of the show, at times challengingly unconventional with inaudible lyrics, it's only the final jaunty Let's Go Do The Thing that lingers in the memory.
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