The Gruffalo could be called ‘The Mouse Who Cried Gruffalo’, like ‘The Boy who cried Wolf’, because in essence the story has the same thrust. Here, a little mouse is approached by three different predators who fancy dining on her, but she scares each one off by telling them she’s having lunch with her friend:
“A creature with terrible claws…
terrible teeth in his terrible jaws…
knobbly knees and turned in toes and a poisonous wart at the end of his nose”
and invariably his favourite food is the particular predator that the mouse is faced with. Each time the animal in question wisely scarpers and the mouse is left laughing, because “We all know, there’s no such thing as a Gruffalo”. But the mouse is wrong, Gruffalos do exist as she soon finds out.
This children’s play is based on the book of the same name by Julia Donaldson (illustrations by Axel Scheffler) which won the Smarties book prize when it was first published in 1999. It now has half a dozen spin-offs, but judging from the under-six contingent in the audience when I saw the show – who knew all the catch phrases and rhymes – the original is still extremely popular.
It’s a very successfully little show that takes the book as its starting point and uses just three performers and simple storytelling to bring the forest and its inhabitants to life. Whereas in the book there is no real need to characterise the predators, here we have just one actor, Joseph Carey, playing all three.
So, in adapting the book (something the ‘company’ get credit for in the program) they are differentiated using music (each has a song) and by adopting an easily recognizable comic stereotype. For example Fox is an East End wide boy whose song (and dance) is in the style of Madness, Owl is a RAF pilot of the Biggles-ilk and Snake is a salsaing, maracas-shaking, Spaniard. All this might sound grotesque but it is pitched and presented perfectly.
Abbey Norman is the mouse to Carey’s predators and Mark Peachey The Gruffalo. The performers all seem to be having a great time and all the action is slick and well presented. Although the predators’ songs are quite catchy, disappointingly the mouse’s reoccurring theme is a bit tame. But Victoria Jarrett’s simple costumes – with one of two touches here or there to suggest the given animal – work a treat.
What really struck me about The Gruffalo was how different it is from the normal fodder of kids’ theatre – no flying cars or elaborate puppets (or hefty price tags) here, just good, wholesome fun, and just as magical. It also avoids trying to cater for adults with a few wink wink nudge nudge jokes and this only endeared the show to me further. It knows who it’s for and what they like. And they really did like it.
- Hannah Kennedy (reviewed at the Pleasance, Islington)