Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox continues at the Lyric Hammersmith, London until 19 February and then tours until 9 July.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Most adaptations of Roald Dahl’s spikey, often subversively uplifting, children’s stories are plays with songs. This entertaining, energy-packed version (a co-production between Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre and Curve Leicester in association with the Lyric) casts as a musical the familiar tale of good guys – the animals led by the eponymous Mr Fox – pitted against grotesquely nasty guys, a trio of farmers. And if you’ve been on Mars for the last 50 years and are not familiar with the novel then there are no prizes for guessing who wins.
Directed by Maria Aberg, this is a family show in every sense of the word because Sam Holcroft, who has adapted the piece, and composer/lyricist Arthur Darvill have angled the narrative to stress the value of, friendship, family and teamwork (lyrics also by Al Muriel and Darren Clark).
Every animal is warmly and distinctively characterised. Sandy Foster’s hilarious, simpering over-enthusiastic Rabbit contrasts nicely with Raphael Bushay’s earnest, studious Badger. Gruffudd Glyn’s geology loving Mole complements Kelly Jackson’s dimuitive, nervous but determined Mouse. And in the foxes’ lair, Lillie Flynn is a feisty Mrs Fox protecting Kit (Jade Croot – good) who – like many human offspring is much more capable than her parents recognise.
Greg Barnett, all-orange, all-strutting and flashing a magnificent tail, has a deliciously stagey entrance to prove just how fantastic he is – before he learns a few hard lessons. Each one of them develops as the story unfolds.
Bushay and Glyn double as Famers Boggis and Bunce, the former a nitwitish compulsive eater and the latter an often-angry Welshman. They are joined by talented Richard Atwill as the absurdly patrician Bean who pronounces “stand” to rhyme with “bend” and “mouse” to rhyme with “mice”. His turn as the dastardly drunken Rat is a showstopping cameo too.
Vibrant songs drive the action without being in any way memorable. Full marks to the band – a trio consisting mostly of highly accomplished actor musos (led by MD Richie Hart) who, tucked up in the corner of Tim Scutt’s inventive multi-levelled set, play a wide range of instruments.
Interchangeably using percussion, reeds, keyboards, double bass and more, they provide pulsing music, lyrical bits and sound effects throughout, and there’s a strong, slick sense of ensemble cohesion. The band also starts each half by coming downstage as birds tweeting in close harmony, and like so much in this vibrant show it’s both fun and funny.
Inventive humour is yet another strand. The witty double entendres in Sandy Foster’s anguished number with a toy rabbit are gently adult but would simply flow over a child’s head. It’s a modern script too with, for example, jokey references to Instagram which add welcome freshness but none of that is over-egged.
Roald Dahl would have been 100 last year. I think he would probably have enjoyed this show as much as I did.
Tickets for Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox – Lyric Hammersmith, London are available HERE.