It is fair to say that I’m a bit older than The Gruffalo’s Child’s target audience, but I’m not going to feign a level of maturity which doesn’t allow me to enjoy a good piece of children’s theatre. The Gruffalo’s Child has many elements of one such show: music, dancing and a charming story, but I feel this understated production is missing a bit of magic.
The Gruffalo’s Child is the stage adaptation of the beloved children’s book written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. It follows the Gruffalo’s child as they venture into the deep dark woods in search of the mysterious big bad mouse.
Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw’s musical numbers are a brilliant addition to Donaldson’s original story. With a mix of different musical styles, each character is brought to life with witty and light hearted songs that will easily be stuck in your head on your journey home. They are used to encourage audience interaction; a welcome addition to the show, particularly as it manages to bring together this socially distanced audience.
Our trio of actors is made up of Althea Burey, Dominic Gee-Burch and Emily Essery — and they have a lot to do. With very minimal set and costume, the creation of this world relies on their story telling abilities. They meet this task with unwavering energy and enthusiasm that is a delight to watch. This small cast achieves a lot, making what I imagine to be a great deal of behind the scenes work, look seamless.
Given the size of the cast, I can understand Isla Shaw’s choice of design. With some moveable trees and boulders, the set can transform from scene to scene and easily accommodates the actors’ needs. With that being said, the simplicity sacrifices a bit of theatrical magic. It’s true, storytelling doesn’t necessarily need anything more than a good storyteller, but when watching a stage show, you expect to be immersed in a more fantastical way. A simple set is not innately bad, but in a venue like Alexandra Palace, it gets overwhelmed.
Truthfully, as with any children’s theatre show, the harshest critics in the room are the children themselves. Today, the review from the show’s audience seems to be pretty positive. There is a chorus of clapping and shouting when the actors invite them to join in; there’s even one or two adlibbed one liners from the audience that add a little comedy to the whole event. If a show can succeed in engaging their young audience in the way this production does, that alone speaks volumes.
The Gruffalo’s Child is playing Alexandra Palace Theatre until 3 January. For more information and tickets, see Alexandra Palace Theatre online.