Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Tall Stories Theatre Company present their interpretation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffer’s, “The Grufflao’s Child”, at the Pleasance theatre. The story reiterates the earlier Donaldson and Scheffer ‘s Gruffalo, but introduces a new character of the “Gruffalo’s Child”. In a moment of boredom, the child ignores her father’s warnings of his earlier mouse experience, and embarks on an adventure in the forest to find the frightening mouse. Her woodland journey allows her to re-encounter the Owl, Snake and Fox characters and eventually the infamous mouse that terrified her father so.
Using a simple set, that is adaptable as the Grufflao’s cave and the forest, the cast of three endeavour to recreate and enhance the original story. A perfectly cast , Abbey Norman, appears as the mouse, story teller and subtle set mover, intuitively capturing the idiosyncrasies of a rodent that also has the ability to think on its feet. Supported by superbly innocent Yvette Clutterbuck as the Gruffalo’s child and the multi talented Owen G. Bevan as the Gruffalo, who played all the predators and was an additional set mover, the trio add music, dance and comic timing to the sturdy story. Beginning with the Gruffalo hidden on set, there are some nice touches of theatrical asides and clever capturing of childish wonder and voices that were never patronising. The original music, provided by Shock Productions, had a strong middle of the road American country feel with catchy hooklines and appropriate upbeat tempos that had feet tapping and quietened the underage babies that had sneaked into the audience.
I enjoyed this show a lot but had to query the directors’ use of audience participation for such a young audience that need to be captured immediately and never let go. It was 20 minutes, ( in a 55 minute show), before the cast spoke directly to the children and asked them to participate in the story. Even then they regularly didn’t capitalise on the childrens’ want to be involved and left them hanging. It’s a story that works well with repeated lines, eg the description of the giant mouse, which the children would have loved to scream out in repetition. I know it’s not pantomime but………….It was only at the final rendition that the audiences’ inhibitions were conquered and they responded, without prompting. I suspected the director believed that all audience members would know the story in advance. The stage lighting was very conservative and the direction chose to keep the cast aloof on a raised stage. The missed opportunity of a childish energy rush, (or is it drain), obtained by running through the auditorium was an elephant in the room. The music was extremely catchy and contained onstage with the cast. I wondered why they didn’t teach the children any of the lyrics, apart from one song, and get them more involved. The songs, and the cast, were definitely strong enough to take it on.
The success of childrens’ stories usually reflect the approval of their parents. “The Gruffalo”, and “The Gruffalos’s Child”, are popular stories, many parents and small children who delight in it, tell me. The recommendation for this performance was for 4 years old and upwards. If you want a 55 minute hiatus of entertaining young people this is ideal, but only if the audience already knows the story. Younger, or less informed children, may find it difficult to understand. The cast were a delight to watch with some inspirational costume changes, if a bit London orientated. See the fox as an, “Arthur Daley/Flash Harry”, type and their choreographed set moving was handled with commitment and supports the story well.
In a nutshell, no pun intended, take the child that knows the two stories already but I’m afraid they won’t burn off much of their energy here.