The Gruffalo at NST Campus, Southampton REVIEW: 'Perfect entertainment for your little monsters this half-term'

The Gruffalo, a musical adaptation of the classic picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.
The Gruffalo, a musical adaptation of the classic picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.
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Anyone who has dealt with small children in the 21st century is more than likely familiar with the publishing powerhouse of writer Julia Donaldson and artist Axel Scheffler.

Their second collaboration, and first major success, was The Gruffalo – which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. 

The book has spawned an entire industry, including an all-star voiced animation, which debuted on BBC1 on Christmas Day 2009.

But before that, Tall Stories theatre company were quick off the mark. They put on the first live theatre adaption in 2001 and since then it’s made repeated visits to The West End and several UK tours.

The show has been newly tweaked for this tour.

Turning any work of just several hundred words into an hour-long show is going to provide challenges.

The Gruffalo and Mouse in Tall Stories' adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's classic picture book

The Gruffalo and Mouse in Tall Stories' adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's classic picture book

The show keeps the basic framework of the story – and much of the original text – but they flesh out the characters and add several songs.

Mouse, played by Rebecca Newman, is a pleasing mix of timidity and quick wits as she hunts for a nut to eat in The Deep Dark Wood.

It’s Jake Addley who has the toughest task, playing the trio of creatures who want to eat Mouse. 

This is where the new characterisation is most effective – Fox is a Cockney wide-boy, Owl is a pompous fool, and snake is a preening matador.

The first time the Gruffalo’s name is mentioned is nicely handled – the young audience are the ones to shout out his name as Mouse tries to come up with something to call the monster. It relies on their familiarity with the story, but that’s a fairly safe bet.

There is also The Narrator, but as Jake/Owl adds in a wry aside, we shouldn’t feel sorry for him when he is told to leave the stage, as he will steal the show later. And he does, for The Narrator, Ashley Sean-Cook, doubles up as the Gruffalo.

With the most memorable song (our boys weren’t the only ones still singing it on the way out) and his scary-yet-dim demeanour, he provides plenty of laughs.

Of course, as much us adults may enjoy these shows – and I did – it’s how well it goes down with the children which is key. 

There is much laughter throughout from the wordplay and some lovely physical comedy, plus some fairly undemanding but fun audience interaction which is taken up with gusto.

Perfect entertainment for your little monsters this half-term.

Until Sunday.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​