The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll’s frankly bizarre nonsense poem first published in 1876, is beloved by many for its strangely elusive quality and the vigour of its language.
Carroll invented a fair few words (beamish, galumphing, frumious among them) in his tale of a crew of people on the hunt for the mysterious Snark: a surreal search involving Bakers, Butchers, a thief called a Bandersnatch and the possibility that a Snark looks exactly like a Boojum (a deadly creature that instantly spirits you away, as I am sure you know).
In RGM Productions’ version, the story is refashioned as a family story of redemption in which a son and his father find common ground on an adventure. It’s a familiar, Disney-seque trope, but one pitched with skill and care for the six-plus target age group.
The Boy (as he is simply known) feels neglected by his banker Dad who finances the trip to hunt for the Snark in order to make money from the discovery of this elusive and mysterious creature.
Our young hero, who wears a Just William-style school uniform with shorts, blazer and cap but seems very much a child of 2017, simply wants a father who isn’t constantly on his phone making deals. So he sneaks aboard his Dad’s boat.
Key elements of Carroll’s poem are included – but the biggest change sees the Butcher transformed into a frightening meat-hungry villain who wants to cook the Snark and the fabulous JubJub bird (see bottom picture) as well.
It’s not the poem as such but it’s cleverly done: a visual treat, with glorious colours and some lovely touches that evoke the sailing experience and the arrival on this fantastical land. As the boat moves, the twirling of propellers with a remodelled umbrella did the trick beautifully.
The performances are first-rate, with Jordan Leigh-Harris making for a likeable boy hero, while Simon Turner handles the banker Dad’s emotional and spiritual transformation on the island with skill and charm.
The songs are written by Gareth Cooper and toe-tappingly good – especially the Dad’s money song, which is performed with gusto. I also liked Annabel Wigoder’s script for the deft away it sprinkled some hilarious adult jokes into proceedings.
This may not capture the zaniness of Carroll’s original but its message about self-discovery and caring for nature are not ones you can quibble with. And as an introduction to the magic of theatre, it is also hard to beat.
The Hunting of the Snark is at the Vaudeville Theatre, London until September 2 and then on a regional tour