THNEEDS MUST WHEN CONSUMERISM DRIVES…
It’s a heartfelt welcome. The Old Vic, for a long while fiercely grownup, throws its arms open to children under Matthew Warchus’ leadership with a fabulous pre-curtain soundscape (25 minutes of it as they settle) . Whooshes, bangs, tinkles, hisses, crashes, buzzes and cracks echo all around, followed by an avuncular announcement from “Old Vic” himself about turning phones off and behaving reasonably well.
And when the show does start, in Max Webster’s production there is immediate evidence of something close to love. Dr Seuss’ less-known rhyming fable of the Lorax is slight enough. The protective, yellow-moustached purply-orange blob of the title is a creature who “speaks for the trees’ and the wildlife among them. He tries to stop the Onceler from chopping them down; but the latter discovers that he can make their fronds into useless but heavily desirable Thneeds – sort of ragged knitted nothingnesses – and builds an arid, polluted industrial empire where once was paradise. The environmentalist moral is so sharply and unforgivingly pointed that I was tempted to buy a novelty Lorax-‘tache in the interval (so much for condemning consumerism) and post it straight to George Monbiot.
HOWEVER – the wit, absurdities and extra dotty rhymes of David Greig’s adaptation , combined with some great songs by Jon Clark (especially the protest song, very Les Mis) , the fabulous design (Rob Howell), headlong ensemble work and enchanting puppetry by Finn Caldwell of Gyre and Gimble all together make up for the tale’s moralistic simplicity. Great multicoloured trees grow from the stage, fabulous golden swans flap over the stalls, big-bottomed loopy bears dance with comedy fish. I could watch it for hours. And there was a good bit when the lawyers turn up to back the villain, with barristers’ wigs and sparkly pink cocktail dresses, and the nice five year old next to me asked “Mummy, are they actual real lawyers?”. Alas, no..
As to character, a brilliant Simon Paisley Day as the Onceler holds a share of sympathy, being no cartoon villain. Thrown out by his green-haired industrial family of Moof Mufflers (no idea) to earn his own living far away, at first he realizes that his knitted Thneeds are pointless, and accepts a rebuke from the baggy but authoritative Lorax. Which has a highly expressive moustache and a fine baritone singing voice (respect to Simon Lipkin who has to produce this while in the awkward position of a puppetteer bent double over a wonky 3ft moustachioed flourbag). When greed takes over the Onceler and he builds the dark Satantic factory, all dustbin-lids and pipes and smoke) we see where he’s coming from. When he delivers a sermon of regret for the pollution and advises us all to give up buying stuff and go back to the stone age, he follows it with a roistering product launch of Thneed 2.0 , a very fine gag indeed.
And in his final exile, reduced to two baleful yellow eyes and green-wooly paws peering from a dark tower, he has a near-tragic pathos. And so has the child who plants the first new seed of hope in the bare soil. Lump in throat. Didn’t expect that.
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