Review: The Gruffalo's Child (Alexandra Palace Theatre)
The stage version of the classic tale comes to Alexandra Palace
Good children's theatre is deceptively difficult to create: go on for too long and the little sweethearts will vocalise their boredom in no uncertain terms, patronise your junior audience and watch the tumbleweed blow around your silent auditorium, go over-the-top with anything scary and there'll be full-throated mass screaming that could awaken the dead.
Make no mistake, the little'uns can be a tough crowd, unfettered by the constraints of theatre-going etiquette that most adult audience members adhere to. If they're not loving it, you'll know all about it soon enough.
All the more reason then to applaud the achievement of the Tall Stories company whose simple but never simplistic, wholly engaging stage version of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's bestselling picture book has taken up residence in the shabby opulence of Alexandra Palace's theatre for the festive season.
Running at barely an hour long, peppered with bouncy, catchy songs and just enough audience participation to keep the youngsters engaged but not so much as to exhaust the attendant adults, this is a lovely introduction to the thrill of live theatre.
Olivia Jacobs' defiantly low-tech production (the bare bones set is pushed and revolved by the actors themselves) strikes the perfect balance between cute and cheeky, and the smaller audience members I saw it with were palpably enchanted. Credit for that must also go to the three performers who combine high-energy versatility with a joyous playfulness that engages but, crucially, never talks down to, their wrapt audience.
Althea Burey makes a suitably winning Gruffalo's Child, all wide eyed innocence with a healthy edge of street-smart attitude, and Emily Essery's Mouse is a sweetly knowing sidekick-cum-adversary. Dominic Gee-Burch gets real comic mileage out of a number of predators trying to impede Gruffalo Junior's journey through the deep dark wood, most notably as a wondrously camp sibilant Spanish snake.
The marketing material for the show claim that it's fun for "everyone from ages 3 to 103" and, while that might be pushing it a bit, this is high quality, warm-hearted but unsentimental children's entertainment. All that, and you get to enjoy the views over London from Ally Pally's unique hilltop vantage point. A super Christmas treat for young families.