Mrs Fox, Mouse, Mr Fox, Rabbit and Kit withe the three farmers and their digger above, behind.
Fantastic Mr Fox
Sometimes I think we can underestimate children when it comes to theatre – often we make things too simple, yet give them something they can get their teeth into and they will tag along quite happily, and tag along they did with Mr Fox.
This is a splendid production where not just Mr Fox but all the creatures are fantastic; the show might be aimed at children but that doesn’t stop it being loaded with the sort of production values you would expect in a mainstream show.
It is a sophisticated telling of Roald Dahl’s novel and, being Dahl, it has its darker side which is never glossed over, thus we see battery hens crammed into cages and our fox setting off night after night to find food to feed his family, Mrs Fox and daughter Kit, my grandson’s favourite character incidentally.
There is no pretence that perhaps he is off to the local Asda mind, he is off killing chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys on the farms of three remarkably greedy and cruel farmers, Bunce, Boggis and Bean, who sound like a firm of dodgy solicitors.
The farmers are more than a little miffed at having their livestock nicked so decide to kill Mr Fox and his entire family, and no doubt any other creature in the vicinity, with the fox’s desired demise described in graphic detail – to the delight of kids, who love a bit of gore.
They also love bodily functions thus we have a farmer who should have gone before he set off but didn’t want to then but really does now – a familiar cry to every parent and grandparent in the audience – with a need to pee bringing hoots of laughter as did an incidence of flatulence which is always a solid banker with kids.
Greg Barnett as Mr Fox
It all added to the fun of a clever and fast paced adaptation by Sam Holcroft setting farmers against animals in a fight to the death, at least as far as the humans were concerned – the animals were happy to carry on stealing their food and leave them to it.
Greg Barnett is a dashing fox, a bit up his own brush at times and quick to blame others, but he comes to realise you can’t live without friends, which include Rachael Bushay as both badger and Farmer Boggis. As Badger he is delightfully dim with everything needing a precise plan while as Boggis he is equally dim with his heart obviously not in this bloodthirsty hunting lark.
Then there is Gruffudd Glyn as the rock hunting mole – whose fine collections of rock all seem the same – and doing a second shift as the ever so Welsh Farmer Bunce, who wants rid of the fox but quickly tires and moans about the hunt.
And completing the farmers we have Richard Atwill as the driven, humourless, hardman Bean, driving everyone on to annihilate the local wildlife. Atwill also pops up as the inebriated, devious, double-crossing rat protecting Bean’s cider cellar, trapping Mr Fox who has to be rescued by Mrs Fox, played by Lillie Flynn.
And then daughter Kit, played by Jade Croot, saves everyone as our daring band rob Bean’s cellar. Being the child in all this, and a tech savvy chid at that, it is easy to see why she appeals to children.
Making up the band are Kelly Jackson as the down to earth mouse and Sandy Foster as a rabbit who can swing between delirious happiness and the depths of despair in virtually the same breath - a delightful performance.
Director Maria Aberg keeps up a good pace, losing none of the storyline, all of which helps keep the notoriously short attention spans of children focused. All that is helped by a splendid two tier set in Tom Scutt’s clever design with the top tier rotating to reveal new scenes from Mr Fox’s den to the cab and bucket of a digger, which, at that height, deserves a round of applause for the stage hands.
The production also has a live band on stage, up on a shelf at the back, with Richie Hart, the musical director, Parick Burbridge and Anna Fordham, who, dressed as birds open each act with a close harmony, barber’s shop quartet – until Bird 4 is shot – in Act 1 and trio in Act 2.
The music by Arthur Darvill is an important part of the show - the lyrics at times are quite biting and aimed one suspects at the older audience members – but the songs would be much more at home in musical theatre than Cbeebies, tuneful an adding to the narrative, and my five-year-old grandson liked them.
It was not just a clever script or musical theatre songs though, the production has no audience participation, apart from a guard dog appearing down an aisle, no panto where is he, or calls for everybody to shout out – this is a proper play and the production manages to both pitch it at kids but at the same time treat them like adults and it worked.
There was little fidgeting, little talking and even little sweet rustling, just wide-eyed kids enthralled by an excellent show. To 22-04-17