For a Christmas treat, you’d be hard pushed to beat The Gruffalo’s Child, the stage adaptation of the Julia Donaldson and and Axel Scheffler story, from the brilliant Tall Stories theatre troupe who already have acclaimed productions of The Room on the Broom and The Gruffalo to their name.
With this revamped production of The Gruffalo’s Child, they once again display their skill at teasing dramatic life from the source text – expanding Donaldson’s words but never losing sight of the essence of her rhyming text or Axel Scheffler’s iconic imagery.
There are also some catchy songs with clever new lyrics in this production, which first premiered in 2005 but has been given new costumes and a new set. I particularly liked the Gruffalo's Child’s refrain: “What’s the point of being a Gruffalo/If you can’t get up and go.” Why indeed?
As most parents will know, this is the magical followup to The Gruffalo – the story of how a mouse outsmarts all the animals in the wood including the eponymous beast. In the Gruffalo’s Child, enfant Gruffalo (Sophie Alice) goes searching for the creature who has now become – in Gruffalo mythology – the Big Bad Mouse, and has a similar experience.
Andrew Mudie’s Gruffalo has a dashing new ragbag outfit that makes him look as he does in the book, while the new set is strikingly simple – a few trees here and there, a large moon and a large trunk inside which the Gruffalo himself is fast asleep.
What Tall Stories always do very effectively is to recreate the childishness of the central character without making her seem silly, and expanding the characterisation of the other creatures, also played by Mudie. So the Fox is a spivvy wide boy in the Arthur Daley mould, while the snake is a camped up, Spanish bundle of neuroses – a transformation that may sound weird but works on stage as Catriona Mackenzie’s clever and engaging rodent once again outsmarts them all.
The Gruffalo's Child is at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue until January 7