In the 10 years since it was published, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (story) and Axel Scheffler (pictures) has become a much-loved classic, proving that big furry creatures who roar can be kind at heart, and a mouse may look at a monster, just as a cat may look at a king.
This perfectly agreeable show is Roald Dahl and Maurice Sendak for tiny tots. The 55-minute stage version by the Tall Stories theatre company has also been around for a decade; their much-travelled production (by Toby Mitchell and Olivia Jacobs) surfaces for its fifth West End season.
How simple do you want a story? Alex Tregear's jaunty, cocksure Mouse sets off in the forest in search of a nut. She meets a fox, an owl and a glittering snake with maracas – a rattlesnake, forsooth – and frightens them off with the threat of the unimaginable Gruffalo.
As we all know, there's no such thing as a Gruffalo... how could there be, with his woodland body hair, uneven teeth, big white tusks, orange eyes and purple prickles? But for three year-olds, there's nothing nicer, even when he rushes through the audience chatting up their mums.
At which point it's as well to remember that he's hungry and his menu for dinner might include mouse-saka, tira-mouse-u, or even Christ-mouse pudding. The company dresses the story in bouncy songs, and funny turns. But the music is pre-recorded and there's an inescapable feeling of Playschool Puritanism about it all, even when Gruffalo makes rude noises.
What I like about the show, though, is its watertight structure, its way of getting an audience to roar for very good reasons and the way the two actors – Scott Armstrong and Alexander Perkins – create an instant vaudeville atmosphere with their backing vocals and versatile fill-in narrative passages. They make a real play of it.
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