Back in the early 1970s Julia Donaldson was writing stories for Radio Bristol and adapting Aesop’s Fables for the BBC’s Play School. Today, she is to children’s literature what Agatha Christie is to crime and detective stories. It is not surprising then to find that, like Christie’s work, Donaldson’s many books – especially those illustrated by the UK-based German illustrator Axel Scheffler – have spawned a tsunami of adaptations on screen and stage.
This year the West End is offering The Gruffalo’s Child, the book that Donaldson and Scheffler produced five years after the enormously successful Gruffalo. First seen at Wimbledon’s wonderful Polka Theatre and now showing at the Garrick, this colourful and lively production is directed by Olivia Jacobs. The production is the latest from Tall Stories Theatre Company which Jacobs co-founded with Toby Mitchell almost 30 years ago, and which has also adapted many other children’s stories, including The Gruffalo, which can be seen this Christmas at Warwick Arts Centre.
As with the television film of The Gruffalo’s Child by Magic Light Pictures, Tall Stories’ stage version of the story is faithful to the original but subtly expanded to deliver an even richer experience for a viewing audience. Harriet Waters is delightful as the titular child, a most unusual creature who is in search of a most unusual mouse, played – adorably – by Samuel Tracy, who also acts as narrator and keeps everyone up to speed with what is going on and who everyone is. The cast is completed by the multi-talented Maxwell Tyler who has enormous fun portraying all of the forest creatures with an appetite for mouse – an owl, a fox and a snake – and he also plays the Gruffalo whose appearance was greeted rapturously by the mostly young audience.
A family show, The Gruffalo’s Child is aimed at children above three years of age, and the five-year-old accompanying this reviewer was suitably impressed, saying of Waters that “I loved her voice” while she – and her parents – enjoyed the comedy, largely provided by Tracy and Tyler, as well as the audience participation. The Gruffalo’s Child is everything good children’s theatre should be and, at just shy of an hour, it doesn’t outstay its welcome – absolutely vital given the show may well be one of the earliest experiences of live theatre for most members of the audience.
A Donaldson for Christmas this year and every year then? Yes, please!
The Gruffalo’s Child is at the Garrick Theatre from 1 December to 7 January, after which it is on tour until April 2024.
Review by Louis Mazzini
Follow the Gruffalo’s Child on her adventurous mission in Tall Stories’ enchanting adaptation of the much-loved picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.
One wild and windy night the Gruffalo’s Child ignores her father’s warnings about the Big Bad Mouse and tiptoes out into the deep dark wood. She follows snowy tracks and encounters mysterious creatures – but the Big Bad Mouse doesn’t really exist… does he? Let your imagination run wild with songs, laughs and scary fun for everyone aged 3 to 103.