I had always thought that Aesop’s fable of the Hare and the Tortoise posed a simple moral that “slow and steady wins the race”. Consulting Wikipedia to see what the York Theatre Royal production has added, however, I found a surprising array of philosophical interpretations. So where does Brendan Murray’s version for children of 3+, produced in association with tutti frutti, stand on the old story?
For a start the Hare and the Tortoise are friends, not just the participants in a challenge. The play begins in Winter: the Tortoise sleeps, the Hare frets like a grounded teenager, then greets his awakening friend with a request for a race – clearly the thing that’s been on his mind all Winter! The story is a lesson in patience: the Tortoise agrees only when the Hare manages to wait patiently for a minute – and that takes till Autumn! And then, of course, the Tortoise goes into hibernation, the Hare promising that this year he will pay attention to the Winter season, so he can tell his friend when Spring returns.
The educational side is nicely absorbed into an appealing piece of story-telling: the alliterative descriptions, the counting games the Hare uses to amuse himself, the understanding of the seasons and their qualities, the repetitions, including the songs (by Dom Sales), frequent, but brief, accompanied by the Hare on a variety of instruments allied to an unobtrusive sound-track.
Catherine Chapman’s designs are full of flowers and insects, including a delightfully colourful Tortoise, and Wendy Harris directs with a nice attention to detail. Barnaby Southgate is an engaging Hare, too amiable for his constant pesterings to irritate, and Luisa Guerreiro’s comically expressive face manages to conjure up a decidedly tortoisy look at times.