Children's shows fall roughly into two categories: Those that really cater for children, and those making sure that parents aren't entirely bored out of their minds whilst their youngsters are, hopefully, enjoying themselves.
Soho's very first Christmas show for younger audiences (3-8 years) appears to have pitched itself half way between the two which I guess isn't a bad place to be. Though it has to be said, it also appears to have its foot somewhere in mid-Atlantic which is a bit strange since Lauren Child, on whose children's book Jonathan Lloyd has based his production, is unquestionably from this side of the pond.
Not that it should matter, either way. Magic is magic in any language. Why then did I not warm to Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book as much as I hoped? Granted the packed audience, over half of whom were very tiny - 3-years-old – and some of whom were having their first theatre outing, seemed mostly captivated. Indeed one small boy became so immersed he gave us a running repeat of every word, exclamations and all!
Child’s Book is indeed a lovely, lively, reworking of some familiar fairy stories within a cautionary tale about the crime of damaging books. Her drawings, too - a cross between Dennis the Menace, Ronald Searle and Quentin Blake - have a wonderful, rebellious flourish about them.
Young Herb falls asleep into a book of fairy tales he is reading and ends up being chased past the usual suspects by a monstrously egotistical Goldilocks. `How dare you be on this page' she screams at the unfortunate Herb (a winsome, striped pyjamaed Simon Greiff), `I am the star and I say you are not allowed in this story!'
All of which would be a delight – the animations by which Child's drawings are brought to life are a total triumph – were it not for a `showbiz' knowingness which requires almost every character to break into songs by Michael Friedman more suited to an older clientele.
Liza Pulman's obnoxious Goldilocks becomes a ghastly all-singing-all tap-dancing Broadway wannabe as well as an unusually pushy Cinderella. On the other hand, Nicholas Khan, her hard-working colleague, ranging from an Elvis-impersonating Puss-in-Boots to traditional fella-in-drag Fairy Godmother and Herb's slumbering friend, Ezzie, barely sounds a malevolent note.
Still, judge as you find. The teenies loved it, the oldsters seemed okay with it. Who am I to quibble, Sibyl?
- Carole Woddis