What the Ladybird Heard continues at the Lyric Theatre, London until 10 September.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
If you go a-burgling in your stripy top with your swag bag you will get caught and sent to prison. That’s the lightly presented moral message of Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks’ immensely popular picture book for pre-schoolers.
The story also celebrates friendship and collaboration because it is the rarely seen ladybird who lurks, listens and blows the whistle on the night-time thieves.
We’re in a rather rosy farmyard, where the prize cow has just won a rosette – which is why the burglars are after her. In the hands of director Graham Hubbard and his team the drama of all this makes a fine, colourful mini-musical for very young children [extra lyrics are by Howard Jacques; the composers are Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw].
Four talented actor-musicians bring the story to life. Emma Carroll’s representation on flute of the magic of the Ladybird and the four-note motif to call her is both skilled and imaginative, for example. Carroll (her wonky faux West Country accent doesn’t detract) dances round the stage, lighting it up as she goes and has a strikingly beautiful singing voice.
Other cast members (Rosamund Hine, Edward Way, Matt Jopling) adeptly play guitar, ukulele, violin, penny whistle, and there’s a lot of percussion – both within the music and as evocative sound effects. They’re a talented quartet.
Enjoyable songs include the rather lovely, simple folksy ‘Home, That’s Where the Heart Lies’ and a cheerful all- baaing, quacking and clucking animal song. The former is reprised several times so that you leave the show with it ringing in your head.
The animals, incidentally, are created on stage from farmyard bits and pieces so we get, for example, a black highland terrier based on rope and a broom, a chicken fashioned out of an old felt cushion, and a horse which emerges from an inverted bike and a tin bath.
It’s like a glorious game of make believe and the children are interactively asked to name each animal as it appears. It’s fun to watch and the young children around me were riveted.
Only the ladybird is different – she’s a projection and when she appears the children are invited to spot her on the set.
Hubbard and his cast have built as much gentle interaction into the show as they can and it works nicely – even to the join-in dance at the end.
Tickets for What the Ladybird Heard are available HERE.