There couldn't be a timelier stage return for Dr Seuss' copse-dweller turned eco-warrior the Lorax, stirred from a life of otium by the rampaging advances of the entrepreneurial and greed-fuelled Once-ler. A lot has changed since the show first debuted in late 2015, not least a rising awareness of damaging air pollution in major UK cities, or the withdrawal of the US from the Paris climate agreement.
But the contemporary relevance never detracts from the fact that, even in its own right, this is a stunningly realised piece of family theatre. Major plaudits must go to designer Rob Howell and Gyre and Gimble's Finn Caldwell and Nick Barnes for creating a breathtaking menagerie here – the reveal of Paradise Valley in the middle of the first act dazzling audiences of all ages. Little is shirked in terms of production value.
The aesthetics could only be as powerful as they are with a solid bout of storytelling to run alongside them, and adaptor David Greig knows that in every piece of family theatre there are always two groups of kids to appease – the youngsters and those just pretending to be grown up. The show has all the bells, whistles and visual delights to keep children on the edge of their seat (or in the case of one child nearby, almost clambering over the row in front ), while also providing enough of a sly, satirical bent to amuse their elders. All is helped by some slick, dynamic direction from Max Webster.
The show pulls off the perfect balancing act of knowing how to honour the memory and style of Seuss while also adding in a few modern twists (though the references to fake news felt slightly tacked on). Both Seuss' power of foresight and the sophistication of the text are equally startling – rather than just giving us the story of the Lorax, he plays the piece largely from the Once-ler’s perspective, all played by a returning Simon Paisley Day with a sense of brimming aspiration that, as the play progresses, starts to cloy. It’s an important lesson for any generation – even our desire to succeed can come to nought if it is at the expense of the finite resources of the world we live in.
But the true stars are the triumvirate of puppeteers who form the Lorax, David Ricardo-Pearce, Ben Thompson and Laura Caldow (with Ricardo-Pearce voicing the creature). His forest is under threat from the encroaches of tree-chopping industry, and he's the only one to stop them. The standoffish ginger ball of fur vaults, punches, fights, swims and soars – unrestricted by the fact three bodies are making it move.
Charlie Fink's soundtrack is as whimsically fun as you'd expect from the frontman of Noah and the Whale, ready to dial up the sentimental charm whenever necessary with a variety of fun and catchy tunes.
What it all amounts to is a show brimming with life, preserving and transplanting the heart of Seuss’ message from page to stage without disturbing its roots. And, for those wanting an extra dose of horticulture, be sure to pick up a pack of seeds on your way out.
The Lorax runs at the Old Vic until 5 November.