Theatre review: The Gruffalo at Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
Now a dozen years old, this is Tall Stories’ original stage adaptation of a Julia Donaldson picture book and so successful has the Highgate-based theatre company become that they seem to have Christmas kids’ entertainment sewn up this year.
The Snail and the Whale plays at St James in Victoria, My Brother the Robot at The Roundhouse, the brilliant Room is on the Broom is on a national tour and The Gruffalo returns to the West End to remind us why they became a byword in quality children’s shows in the first place.
Like all their productions, it has witty, original songs, an aesthetic inspired by Axel Scheffler’s original illustrations and an expressive physical and visual style that imaginatively translates page to stage.
The story of a feisty mouse who tricks three predators into believing she’s awaiting an imaginary monster – only to be confronted by the scary creature in the flesh – became an instant classic when first published in 1999.
Tom Crook has great comic timing as the narrator, with jokes and asides to amuse both young and old. As the Gruffalo, he sports a brilliantly realised showstopper costume that, while still cartoonish, scared my two-year-old when he leapt into the stalls.
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Timothy Richey takes the triple role of a tweed-coated wheeler dealer fox, a Squadron Leader eccentric Owl and a moustachioed maraca shaking, slightly camp snake whose love of partying is conveyed by wiggling his non-existent hips.
Susanna Jennings is the sharp-witted mouse whose confidence grows to downright cockiness as she outwits her would-be attackers.
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At 50 minutes, it’s pacily directed with plenty of audience interaction to keep even the tiny ones amused. Great family entertainment.
Until January 12.