Review: Room on the Broom (Lyric Theatre)
Tall Stories' adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's children's book arrives in the West End for Christmas
When stage adaptations of much loved children's books are good, they're very, very good, and when they are bad, they are horrid. Thankfully, this version of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's Room on the Broom by Tall Stories, is definitely the former.
Donaldson and Scheffler's simple tale of a hitchhiker-friendly witch whose kindness ultimately sees her broomstick break under the strain of its passengers takes only a couple of minutes to read. Bolstered by a neat framing narrative, a series of catchy songs (by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw) and just the right amount of witty dialogue, Tall Stories' version comes in at the 60-minute mark.
Props to the company's joint artistic directors Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell (Jacobs directs here, while Mitchell is credited as creative producer) that all this extra material not only enlivens but also enriches the story. The witch, her cat, the dog, the frog and the bird are all given proper characterisations – silly, certainly, but there's no harm in that – such that it's a real pleasure to watch this motley bunch interact. Emma Crowley-Bennett's cynical cat is a delightful tonic to Amy Harris' jolly-hockey-sticks Witch, while Charlie Guest and Andrew Mudie make puppeteering the remaining characters (designed by Yvonne Stone) while singing and dancing look remarkably easy.
There's very little interaction with Morgan Large's set design, as most of the action takes place mid-stage on the titular broom, but Large's props and costumes are key to the storytelling. Particularly satisfying is the imaginative repurposing of objects from the framing narrative – a group of friends spot the witch flying above them as they prepare to set up camp in the woods – as important elements in the main story.
James Whiteside's lighting design takes us clearly from ground to sky and back again, rendering unnecessary anything clever in the way of harnesses or wires. The cast tell us they're flying and we believe them – simple as that. Morag Cross's choreography adds fun to proceedings, particularly during the climactic fight scene between the witch and the dragon (played by Mudie in full-on dad-gag mode). Any parents worrying about whether their kids might be scared by this part of the show can relax – this dragon talks the talk but it's clear he's no match for the witch and her gang.
Room on the Broom is just one of several Donaldson/Scheffler books that Tall Stories are touring at any one time. The company has clearly found its niche.