Everyone knows that children aged four to 11 are more likely to respond with pleasure to farts and bogeys than they are to tinselly charm, but they do like a bit of magic too. Fungus the Bogeyman by Pilot Theatre manages not to lose its heart in a welter of dreadful puns and jokes about Flaked Corns for breakfast and Snot Noodles for lunch. Based on Raymond Briggs’ popular strip cartoon celebration of all that is yucky, it retains a smidgen of truth about the way different kinds of people judge each other and must compromise to get on. The magic comes from the staging and the full-throttle acting.
Marcus Romer, Pilot’s artistic director, has adapted the book to include songs and lots more puns while being true to its gloriously slimy spirit. A narrator from the sewers (accordion-paying Christan Edwards) links the smelly underground world of green gloom with the sunny street above which is inhabited by disinfectant-wielding Drycleaners. Those in the audience who do not have mud-green features and relish the occasional bath will recognise the Drycleaners as people like us.
The multi-talented cast of six are energetic and child-friendly, belting out rock and ballad-style numbers for all they are worth. Joanna Swain as Fungus’ “drear” wife Mildew and Ebony Feare as funky young Drycleaner Maxine both have particularly stunning delivery.
Ivan Stott has come up with tunes catchy enough to be sung by eight-year-olds in the interval, and Ali Allen’s design is a masterpiece of shifting but solid-feeling locations, helped by James Farncombe’s atmospheric lighting. Are there any green bulbs left in north London?
There are some oddities which may lead to questioning afterwards. Why do Bogeymen enjoy a cultured life in the dirt with piles of books and ready (mis)quotation from grown-up poets, while Drycleaners are satisfied with Hello! magazine? And why, if the underground world is quiet does sensitive-eared Fungus so love musicals and everyone is happy to clap to a loud beat? Never mind, the final disgusting bogey song (don’t ask) sends everyone home on the right “eeugh” note.
- Heather Neill (reviewed at London’s Artsdepot)