Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe
Tuesday 24 April 2012, 1.30pm
I thought our trip to The Gruffalo would be challenging on two counts.
Firstly, while my two-year-old has been to a few shows now, they are usually based around characters she knows from the television. How would she react to characters she has only ever seen in a book? Although admittedly the award-winning book byJulia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler is a book she knows very well.
Which brings me to the second challenge. She loves this book. She finishes off lines when you read it to her and if you leave words out she adds them in. It was clear that in a stage adaptation, it wouldn’t just be read out verbatim or the show would last five minutes not 55! How would she react to bits added in? Would she be confused, or worse, point out loudly that they “weren’t doing it right”!
I needn’t have worried – she was engaged totally from the start. Right from the second she entered the theatre and saw trees on the stage and heard the sounds of birds singing in the “deep, dark, wood”, she was in the zone and easily followed the story of the plucky mouse who scares off would-be predators with tales of a supposedly imaginary, monster – the Gruffalo.
I know this because she told me exactly what was going on at every point!
This page to stage show from the Tall Stories theatre company is a minimalist but charming representation of the story which uses familiar lines from the book to ensure that the children know what’s going on plus extra dialogue that makes each character more three dimensional and adds depth and fun to the story.
There are just three performers, Josie Cerise as the mouse, Owen Guerin The Gruffalo and Timothy Richey, who plays all of the predators – the fox, the owl and the snake – with a slight adult twist and amusing asides that make it fun for the grown-ups as well as the youngsters.
The fox, dressed in a tweed jacket and cap is quintessentially British, the owl is a fighter pilot and the snake is decked out in sequins as a flamboyant showman playing the maracas.
I had heard criticism about this show because the animals are not dressed as actual animals. My view is that this is OK for a spoon-fed, stating the obvious generation, but theatre isn’t about that – it is about imagination and interpretation.
Theatre is often about the suspension of disbelief and there is no reason why you shouldn’t introduce children to this idea at an early age.
After all, the younger they are, the more open they are to ideas. My toddler still knew which character was which, even when my mum didn’t!
All the characters interact with the audience in a way that makes you feel part of the action and my little one was amazed when the Gruffalo asked the audience for help – and actually came off the stage and sat right in front of her.
Each character has its own song which also stretches the action out and the music is catchy with an unexpectedly ska-ish feel to it which I really enjoyed.
It is not a lavish production, but more than makes up for it with charm and an uncluttered feel gives even more scope for your own imagination – all in all it was a great success for us!
Approximately 55 minutes without an interval. This was just about OK for my two-year-old who only got a little bit fidgety about five minutes before the end but I think this was because she caught sight of her new Gruffalo colouring book and wanted to read it!
It’s advertised as being suitable for ages three to 103.
Merchandise varied in price but there was a good selection. Postergrammes are £1 which I thought was very reasonable as it gave you all the details about the cast and creative team on one side and a souvenir poster on the other.
Other items ranged from books and CDs to soft toys and a felt picture of a Gruffalo on a stick. We succumbed to the latter – which I have to admit that 24 hours later is getting a bit annoying! – plus a rather nice colouring book and a small soft Gruffalo toy. To be honest I must confess that I only got the toy (£10) because it looked like the staff behind the table wouldn’t be able to cope with a lot of change from a £20 note – but it is very good quality and my daughter loves it – therefore, it’s worth every penny!
For more information and tour dates visit: http://www.gruffalolive.com/
The Wycombe Swan as a venue for children: https://childplays.wordpress.com/2012/04/25/wycombe-swan-high-wycombe/