Four actor-musicians set the scene. Dressed up as blue birds they sing a merry tune to welcome in the morning, before one is promptly shot by a large air rifle that protrudes from the stage. Instantly we are submerged into the life of Boggis, Bunce and Bean, the infamous farmers who are the nemesis of our hero Mr Fox. The classic Roald Dahl tale begins to come to life, in musical form, in front of our eyes. The design is vibrant, the costumes are contemporary and cool and there is an electric energy about the theatre as the characters burst into song.
Despite the rather brutal opening, the first half then continues in a very traditional manner and seems very much a production for young children. Which is a little confusing. As the second half commences I begin to think ‘who is supposed to be the target audience for this piece?’ One moment you’re watching a production that is clearly for children and the next you’re watching Mr Bean ripping his shirt open while singing about his daddy issues. The moments of adult comedy in this piece are utterly hilarious but unfortunately they are just so out of place in what seems, in most parts, a classic adaptation. If I’m completely honest, it feels like the writers have bottled it. It feels like they wanted to make a hilarious, almost satirical adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox but chickened out at the last minute, consequently ending up in some dodgy middle ground that doesn’t work. Mr Fox ends up trapped in a cage and Mrs Fox begins to sing about how she is fed up of his misogynistic behaviour in some kind of random feminist plot twist. The song is brilliant – truly amazing – but feels random and unnecessary.
The cast are incredible and do justice to the spectacular direction of the overall piece. The actor-musicians, Patrick Burbridge, Anna Fordham and Richie Hart are outstanding and deserve enormous amounts of praise for accompanying the entire show with a standard of music you would expect emerging from the pit at a West End theatre.
Richard Atwill, Raphael Bushay and Gruffudd Glyn are hilarious and disgusting as Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Their animation and characterisations are detailed and precise. Greg Barnett plays this rather egotistical, misogynistic Mr Fox. Barnett is charming and energetic in his role. Kelly Jackson plays Mouse. Jackson is simply brilliant and perfectly cast. Meticulous in her detail, you can really believing in her eccentric character. Her expressions, mannerisms and vocal quality are absolutely on point and she was an absolute pleasure to watch.
I am left with mixed feelings about this production. The cast are great, the direction is marvellous and the casting is perfect. The writing just does not seem finished or, rather, it seems confused. Overall this is a rather random adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox that neither tells the classic story nor does something innovative to enhance the classic tale.
Fantastic Mr Fox is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until February 19.
Photo: Manuel Harlan