If you go down to the woods today…beware! Especially if you’re a mouse with attitude. The Gruffalo is back on track and on stage and there’s enough in David Wood’s adaptation to keep the adults as well as the small children in the audience thoroughly involved.
Three actors play all the parts. The feisty mouse, all twitching ears, fluttering tail and the very pinkest of paws is Alex Tregear. She manages the right blend of androgynous anthropomorphism to convince from her first entrance and gets the children on her side from her initial scamper onto the forest floor, backed by the two hard-working, multi-role playing storytellers.
David Garrud creates nicely differentiated predators – countryman fox, flying-ace owl and the slinky sequinned maracas-wielding snake – while Scott Armstrong is the Gruffalo himself, a towering thing of shreds, patches and the quirkiest of tails. Armstrong has a nice line in mimed ad libs; I particularly liked the camp peacock.
Children accept theatre conventions very quickly, but they do like them to have an overlay of the familiar. Isla Shaw’s set is in earth colours and dots the acting area with trees and rocks; these come in very handy for the numerous costume changes. Toby Mitchell’s direction and Morag Cross’s choreography keeps the action brisk with the opportunities for audience participation perfectly timed.
Fifty minutes is quite a long time to hold a very young audience’s attention without lapses. It’s a merit of this adaptation and the commitment of its cast that a sold-out matinee stayed enthralled throughout. The Gruffalo has developed over its stage life of nearly a decade but not grown wearly. There are many miles left for this not-so-scary beast to travel, I feel.