POSTED: 30 JUNE 2010

The Gruffalo, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Tall Stories | Seymour Centre, Chippendale, Sydney | Until 10 July

The Gruffalo is a “big-stage” musical adaptation of the classic picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, in which a mouse (Crystal Hegedis), now dressed in cargo pants, outfoxes all her predators in her quest to find nuts in the deep, dark wood.

In an attempt to convince her very colourful and eccentric predators not to eat her, Mouse declares she has a lunch date with The Gruffalo, an imagined, scary monster... who turns out to be real.

Simon van der Stap plays the fearsome Gruffalo with obvious enjoyment as he goes from boldness to panic exactly when required. He also adopts a suitably comic tone as the narrator of the piece, with enough visual jokes to entertain adult audiences.

Stephen Anderson plays all three predators — the cowardly fox, the military owl and the maraca-playing snake, with carefully layered humour.

The audience participation was exemplary, with loudly enthusiastic children chorusing the action on the stage:

“Silly old fox! Doesn't he know... There’s no such thing as a gruffalo!”

The play’s main target audience is very young children, for whom charismatic use of rhyming and repetition is employed. But the story of finding solutions instead of being defeated by them is a timeless one that can be appreciated by young and old alike.

This is a faithful adaptation to the text and images of the book, and precisely timed to maintain youthful interest without boring the grown-ups.

The production has a pantomime quality to it, but its themes of  initiative, bravery and self-reliance elevate it to a rewarding theatrical experience.

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