Theatre review: The Gruffalo at Lyric Theatre

Wide-eyed kids will love the trickster mouse, says Matt Adams.

Julia Donaldson’s modern fairytale owes much to the European folklore of the enchanted forest, a place of monsters and magic where nothing is quite as it seems.

The Gruffalo’s “deep, dark wood” is home to not only dangerous predators like Fox, Owl and Snake, but also the eponymous beast himself, a fearful creature whose reputation is as terrifying as the reality.

On the hunt for nuts, our hero the Mouse ventures deep into the forest, placing himself at increasingly greater risk, and finds himself having to construct ever more outlandish lies to escape becoming a meal for his hungry adversaries.

The Mouse himself has roots in the trickster mythology which gave birth to characters like Brer Rabbit and the Native American Coyote, outwitting his opponents, here persuading the Fox, Owl and Snake that he is friends with a terrifying monster known as the Gruffalo.

But as is often the case with these tales, the old adage of “be careful what you wish for” holds true, for the creature he crafted from his imagination turns out to be very real, and also keen on enjoying Mouse as a tasty snack…

Drawing on Donaldson and Scheffler’s story, but expanding it with further background details and original songs, the live version might require a certain suspension of disbelief to see its human cast as the creatures of the book, but it doesn’t take long to achieve this goal.

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My three-year-old daughter soon accepted that the characters on stage were the same as those she had encountered on the printed page, and sat enchanted as the familiar events unfolded before her eyes.

She wasn’t convinced about joining in the songs or interacting with the actors, but preferred to sit wide-eyed, taking it all in and enjoying the experience, with the occasional refuge in a cuddle when things got a little bit scary.

The hour-long duration was just long enough to hold her attention, and she came out of the theatre chatting away about what she had seen - proof the performance made a positive and lasting impression.