Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile at Leeds Playhouse – review

The children’s tale is brought to the stage in Leeds, before a London transfer

Lawrence Hodgson-Mullings, Philippa Hogg and Elliotte Williams-N’Dure in The Enormous Crocodile, © Manuel Harlan

While the Quarry Theatre stages Oliver!, with its cast of talented juveniles, the Courtyard offers something for their younger siblings: pouring in hand-in-hand in – dare we say? – crocodile fashion.

Things begin fairly quietly. Pre-show, bubbles descend on the audience, a few hardy souls try to burst them, then the cast wander round with insect puppets, the stage meanwhile a dark mysterious African jungle. When the play starts, a couple of frogs converse, birdsong is heard and the enormous crocodile decides she would like to eat a nice fat child.

By the end all has changed. The conquerors of the crocodile sing their song of triumph, the audience join in with lines such as “sizzle like a sausage”, the dancing gets wilder, the music gets louder and even the crocodile joins in. It’s been a fun hour!

London will have a chance to see this lively, inventive and delightful production next summer when it surfaces at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre – which will most certainly be an ideal setting.

It’s one of those shows, co-produced with the Roald Dahl Story Company, where placing the credit is difficult in a long list of creatives. Suhayla El-Bushra’s book and lyrics, in typical Dahl fashion, don’t shy away from infant rudery. Ahmed Abdullahi Gallab supplies catchier tunes and Tom Brady delivers additional music and lyrics. Emily Lim directed with a light touch and a keen sense of the pictorial in Fly Davis’ constantly changing jungle set.

However, it’s Toby Olié’s work as co-director and puppetry designer that grabs the eye. From small hand-puppets we graduate to larger-scale efforts worn like a costume and, in the case of the enormous crocodile, a huge head with a jaw that clamps shut and a detachable train.

All the cast respond with infectious enthusiasm and no little skill. We doubtless suspect that no child will be harmed in this production, but the wiles of Trunky the Elephant (Charis Alexandra), Humpy Rumpy the Hippopotamus (Lawrence Hodgson-Mullings), Muggle-Wump the Monkey (Robyn Sinclair) and  the Roly Poly Bird (Philippa Hogg) are always entertaining, with their message that you have to be brave in such situations. All four actors play various other parts (a Scoutmistress and three constantly disappearing children are a treat) and sing and dance to the manner born.

Which only leaves Elliotte Williams-N’Dure as the Enormous Crocodile. Dragging her mighty length behind her, seeking every opportunity to fill her belly via that vicious mouth and belting out her songs with hints of jazz and gospel, she is terrific.