This show has much to commend it - not least the delight on children’s faces when onstage action spills into the auditorium - but it’s sometimes just too adult (viz. one song, “It’s boring to be bored”) and not childish enough for a family Christmas show.
It’s emphatically physical, with many tricks and treats for children’s eyes: Titty and Roger’s swimming scene and Uncle Jim’s looming houseboat prow in particular. There’s also a positive nod to ‘09’s Christmas show (Kneehigh’s Hansel & Gretel) with acting musicians onstage, and a wink to director Tom Morris’s own War Horse, as puppet comorants soar through the cast.
After treats for the eye come those for the ear: Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy)’s words and music are a delight, if perhaps too balanced towards adult pastoral tastes (perhaps reflecting nostalgia for childhood). This means there’s not enough musical space for the story’s bright conflict and fun, which he provides so brilliantly in the Amazons’ songs.
Once the Amazons arrive (the vibrant duo of Celia Adams and Amy Booth-Steel), the fun begins in earnest on all levels. Colour, pace and fun all pick up immeasurably in the script and lyrics, and it’s here and in the final scenes that the show finds its best energy.
Hats off to the Old Vic; this is a fine show, impressively done, but oh, for more fire and less water!