The Hunting of the Snark continues at the Vaudeville Theatre, London until 2 September, then tours until 19 November.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
This show, written by Annabel Wigoder, is a masterclass in witty, engaging, imaginative musical theatre for children. Lewis Carroll’s delightfully silly 19th century nonsense poem is the starting point.
Gareth Cooper’s eight musical numbers are gloriously diverse. The costumes (designed by Justin Nardella) are bright and daft, but also homely – a multicoloured knitted dress for a banker who loses his trousers for instance, and a series of stereotypical nationality hats.
And it’s all played out on a spare set which evokes the London skyline, the moon and more. Ceri James’ lighting – from near blackout to flushed rosy pink – manipulates the atmosphere well too.
The plot (“What plot?” as one of the characters comments) takes Simon Turner (as the money-obsessed, soon-to-be-trouserless banker) to Snark Island with his mostly ignored son (Jordan Leigh-Harris) to find and exploit the elusive snark.
With them goes Ben Galpin’s Bellman, because he’s a natural history expert, and Will Bryant as the baker – gay, nervous and hilarious.
Polly Smith’s butcher, meanwhile, charges absurdly about with a meat cleaver looking for creatures to kill and eat. Think Monty Python crossed with The Tempest.
They are all looking for the Snark. Make up you own mind what it is.
Lewis Carroll later admitted it was a metaphor for happiness. Either way the self-referencing theatre jokes are fun, as we are told to admire the way the Jubjub’s egg shines in the stage lights, or invited to note the Bandersnatch’s good acting.
The cast is a highly talented bunch. Turner does an exquisitely ridiculous slinky Elvis turn in ‘When You’ve Got Money’. Smith has an impressive portfolio of accents. Leigh-Harris sings beautifully and finds the right balance of innocence, vulnerability and feistiness for a young motherless boy who is bullied at school.
Bryant’s wicked Bandersnatch, dressed like a Christmas tree ornament, prances malevolently when he’s not being the timid baker.
And Galpin gives us an earnest khaki-suited explorer – David Attenborough merged with Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Most of the music is structured around ensemble harmony and counterpoint rather than big solo numbers and that’s very compelling in Gemma Colclough’s production.
Gather up your littluns and take them to the Vaudeville Theatre. This is definitely one not to miss.