Fox[author-post-rating] (3/5 stars)

This new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox sees a young company waver between making a children’s show and, an important distinction, simply adapting a children’s book. With Fox, Scratchworks has created a lively piece of theatre that nonetheless feels uncertain and a little misguided.

The core problem is that it has devised a show without any speech in it, conveying the plot only through a flip chart at the side of the stage, which displays scene locations, and hints at the plot and music. Very distinctive, but perhaps not all that ideal for an audience comprised largely of under-sixes – after all, they’re not an age group known for being particularly keen or able readers.

Choosing to make something that is such an integral part of the show, its entire plot, completely impenetrable for younger viewers, leaves this piece of theatre feeling as though it was not really created with children in mind at all. But there is also not nearly enough meat here for an adult audience, and so Fox is left floating in a strange and ill-defined place, neither fish nor fowl.

Ratty, Mr Jeremy Badger and the Fox family are played by a cast of six, with their animalhood defined simply and efficiently by subtle make-up and some nice costume design. A tail here and there might not have gone amiss – not least because never having had one means this Mr Fox can’t have his shot off, and takes a bullet rather calmly to the leg instead – but the animal identities are clear enough. Not being able to speak, though, does rather limit the amount of things that can happen to them. Though Scratchworks follows the plot of the novel in essence, Fox misses the wicked glee of Boggis, Bunce and Bean, here represented simply by ominous torchlight in the animals’ faces, and the distinctive wordsmithery of Dahl.

The music is well-chosen and keeps the energy high, but the layout of the venue versus the one small flip-chart means that even adults who can read perfectly well may get lost occasionally if they’re not sitting on the front row. Having cut out so much of the plot, except that the Fox family must dig underground and somehow find food, means that physical theatre sequences are strung out for extended periods of time. And although these sequences are generally quite fun to watch and there are some lovely ideas here, there aren’t quite enough of them to make Fox the boisterous hour it could be.

Fox can be seen at 13.10 at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, every day until 24 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.