I am sure I am not alone when I say that in our household, the work of Julia Donaldson is a firm family favourite. While we love pretty much every book published by Donaldson, each family member has their own preferences. Miss Mess was always particularly fond of “Room on the Broom” but for Mini Mess, it would have to be “The Gruffalo”. When I saw an advert for “The Gruffalo Live” coming to the Theatre Royal in Nottingham, I knew it would be the perfect choice for Mini Mess’s first (non-panto) theatre visit.
It is a very rare occasion for the whole family to attend the theatre together. Mr Mess doesn’t share the love Miss Mess and I have for musical theatre, while a lot of the plays Mr Mess and I enjoy are not suitable for the little ones. So it felt very special for the four of us to be sat in the front row, ready to watch a show together. What I hadn’t expected was just how much we would all (adults included) enjoy The Gruffalo Live.
One of the things I appreciated most about this production of The Gruffalo Live was how is stayed true to the style and mood of the source material. Obviously it’s a 10 minute book and an hour show, so they had to embellish a little but still kept all of the original words and rhymes which is so important, especially for the children who know this material back to front.
Lauren Scott Berry was bright, bubbly and utterly adorable as The Mouse, who sets out on an epic quest to find a nut in a wood full of predators. She was instantly likeable and immediately appealed to the children, encouraging them to participate. She has a beautiful clear voice and bundles of energy and enthusiasm. A delightful performance!
All 3 of the main predators – Fox, Owl and Snake, were all played by the same actor, Alastair Chisholm. Chisholm did a brilliant job of give each predator their own unique character traits, using distinctive accents and body language. He was so good that during the bows Miss Mess asked where the other actors were and I had to explain that one man played all three. She was very impressed.
I think my favourite ( and I’m sure others would agree) was the latin-dancing, flamboyant snake who had adults and children alike in stitches with his antics. If you know how I feel about snakes generally you will know how surprised I was to enjoy this character.
Do you ever get that feeling that you recognise someone but you can’t put your finger on where you know them from? I think it was roughly about the time I saw Neil Jennings pretending to be a peacock that I realised exactly where I knew him from. I’ve actually seen him perform a couple of times with my all-time favourite theatre group, The Pantaloons, in plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest and The Canterbury Tales.
I already knew from seeing his work with The Pantaloons that Jennings has fabulous comic timing and versatility as an actor. Both of these things were put to great use in his performance as the storyteller and later, The Gruffalo! I loved how he managed to be scary, but not too scary. Mini Mess was clutching her little brown mouse toy quite tightly to begin with, but was happily shouting at The Gruffalo along with the rest of the kids by the end.
I loved the bright colours and playful styling of the set which made it look like it had leapt straight off the page of the book. Clever lighting helped to create the illusion of the deep, dark wood and the set held some hidden surprises, which I’ll leave you to discover for yourself.
The original score contained some fun, catchy musical numbers which were all well performed by the performers. They also allowed for a bit of movement in some entertaining dances. Some of the tunes were really quite catchy – I heard a number of adults singing “G-G-G-Gruffalo” as we left the theatre. Miss Mess decided to buy the soundtrack that accompanies the show, so I’m sure we’ll be singing along for a long time to come.
The Gruffalo Live is perfectly suited to a first time theatre goer, like Mini Mess, as well as to avid theatre fans such as Miss Mess and myself. While it’s obviously tailored towards younger children, it is still remarkably enjoyable for the grown-ups. Fans of the book will enjoy seeing the story come to life, but I would just as readily recommend this show to some one who’s never read the book. (If such a person even exists!)
The Gruffalo Live is produced by Tall Stories and is touring until January 2018. For full tour dates and venues check out their website.