The Tiger Who Came to Tea (Lyric Theatre)

Tea time is never the same again after Sophie and her Mummy have a surprise visitor

There’s nowhere to hide with an audience of under-fives. They either like your play and join in wholeheartedly, or they’re bored and start squirming about and crying.

Thankfully the enduring appeal of The Tiger Who Came to Tea makes this a delightful show that could scarcely fail to entertain any child – whether they already know the story or not. The adaptation by director David Wood determinedly keeps faith with the combination of homely charm and surreal events that have made Judith Kerr’s 1968 picture book so loved by generations of children.

And it’s clear from the audience’s eager prompts that many of them are very familiar indeed with the tale of the greedy Tiger, who politely but resolutely eats the entire contents of Sophie’s tea table, kitchen cupboards and fridge, and even drinks Daddy’s beer and all the water in the taps.

Capturing the feline charm of this visitor is Benjamin Wells, (who does duty as Daddy too). Capering gracefully inside his tiger costume, he conveys the gentlemanly elegance of a courtier, while maintaining an undercurrent of danger – after all, this tiger does seem to be extremely hungry…

Sophie, complete with her famous harlequin-patterned tights and smock dress, is played by Abbey Norman with huge energy and enthusiasm, while Jenanne Redman is a safe and reassuring presence as Mummy.

David Wood’s music and lyrics are deceptively simple but very appealing. It’s perhaps a little ambitious to expect such a young audience to tackle singing a three-part round about sausages and chips, but they all have a go – and the title song was being warbled in the loos afterwards, which is always a good sign.

The design and costumes are an absolute triumph for Susie Caulcutt. Ultimately this show stands or falls by the quality of its hero, and the fluffy fur, adorable face and perky tail of this majestic Tiger’s costume have true child appeal. When a book is as well known as this one, no one wants too many departures from the familiar, and recreating the gentle warmth of Kerr’s original illustrations has been achieved by Caulcutt with sensitivity and imagination.

Lighting designer Tony Simpson also excels during the night-time scenes, capturing the shimmering city streets as Sophie, Mummy and Daddy set off for the thrilling outing in the dark to have their dinner in a café.

The show has been touring successfully since 2008, and Wood credits Kerr for her helpful input into creating the original production.

Seeing your favourite characters jump out of the pages of a book and onto the stage is a magical experience – and this is a Tiger who really has earned his stripes.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea runs at the Lyric Theatre until 19 January.