THE BIG HAIRY ONE RIDES AGAIN…
Stage Hero of the week is Owen Guerin, aka The Gruffalo in the larky children’s play based on Julia Donaldson’s immortal book. On the hottest West End day for decades there he was, even more overdressed for the weather than David Suchet in his Lady Bracknell rig across town. In an immense tatter-tag suit and hood, he roared and chased and danced and, in the culminating moments when Mouse (Ellie Bell) has outwitted him, abandons the stage to dive through the shrieking audience and leap over seatbacks in manic panic. Respect!
The third cast member has the lightning changes – Timothy Richey as all the predators is a birdwatching owl, an extremely vain snake and a bouncing fox. And all of it is set, beautifully by Isla Shaw in Tall Stories’ well-loved production which looks like the familiar Axel Scheffler illustrations , but offers sly playful surprises in the creatures’ look.
I say “shrieking” but a great merit of this stage Gruffalo-show is that unlike some drama for slightly older children (the youngest here are only three) it doesn’t channel the childrens-telly-presenter manic vapidity, demanding cheers and screams from the start. It builds properly, like a storybook, letting the Mouse’s journey through the wood draw the attentive audience with it and not unveiling the actual Gruffalo until quite late on (I like to think of him in hot matinee mornings, probably sitting backstage in his pants with a fan on until the last moment, but that may be kindly wishful thinking). So when he appears there is a real frisson, and indeed in the physical work a real sense of danger. And the children near me clapped with glee at the moment when Mouse has persuaded the poor dim tusky monolith that she – not he – is the reason all the other animals flee.
Having raved before about Donaldson’s STICK MAN on stage, this now joins it in the pantheon of shows I want to keep on running until I get my hands on some grandchildren – or great-nephews and nieces obliging enough to live nearby. Keep it up.