Already in a good mood because there is abundant free parking after 1.30pm on a Saturday (and all-day Sundays) near the venue, Little Angel Theatre’s return to live performance with their adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s classic The Smartest Giant in Town proved itself a family-pleasing belter. My 8-year-old twins were enrapt and grinning throughout with my son leaping to his feet for a boogie of joy by the finale!
In its intimate studio setting (which is a few blocks from the legendary puppet-making workshop and its adjacent smaller, pew-seating performance space), director (and co-adaptor) Samantha Lane has managed to stage a pacey and magical tale that is both true to the book for purists but more than a line-by-line reading of it. The catchy ditties by Barb Jungr (and co-adaptor) throughout this episodic tale of super-sized disrobing extends the show’s appeal to older junior-school-aged children, whilst also hitting the sweet spot for the infants’ schoolchildren for whom the book is written.
As my 8-year-old co-critic (son) explained to me when I asked to whom he thought the play would appeal: ‘Everyone. It’s like Pixar. Grown-ups and older kids, like me, like it for the catchy songs and drama; and little kids like it for the puppets and the story and, if they like the original book, they’ll like this… and they’d probably laugh at how the Giant kept dropping things on the floor!’ (He then laughed in reminiscence of the physical humour some 24-hours after having seen it.)
Indeed, there were gentle laughs aplenty – with my twins especially tickled by a topical social distancing bit of theatrical business (when ‘puddle’ is rhymed with ‘cuddle’ and a sort of health & safety assessment is done before a hug).
My daughter was wowed by the stagecraft (informing me it was the basis of one of the additional stars she awarded it). Kate Bunce’s modular set creates the world and necessary puppet/Giant proportions whilst neatly gliding or stacking for the next scene and its focus.
Of course, the puppets make the show. The exquisite craft of Little Angel, currently celebrating its 60th anniversary, doesn’t disappoint. The three-hander was delivered to us by Duane Gooden as the Giant with Lizzie Wort and Gilbert Taylor in all other roles. In addition to being swept away by the theatrical action, my children were also amazed by the hard work. ‘How can he breathe or see in that costume?’ ‘The Giraffe-Guy was really sweating – it must be so heavy!’ For older children, there seems to be a secondary element of fun in puzzling ‘how do they do that?’ but, fundamentally, even these two Year Four children were engrossed by the simple plot and looking forward, beaming, to the next familiar episode with the unexpected dimension of how will the creatures of one of their favourite books be brought to life and what musical numbers will they perform? For myself, I particularly liked the family of mice and the theatrical imagery of their scale and scampering next to the Giant and the simple but effective props along with the toe-tapping quality of their number. All creatures, designed by Judith Hope, were splendid and I suspect there will be a widespread of favourites in every family.
This show is short, simple and utterly charming. With its upbeat but light-touch theme of generosity and acceptance coupled with toe-tapping songs, it’s a welcome relief from much of what has been endured in the last year and a great way to return with the family to live performance. The Smartest Giant in Town has thus far shown itself to be one of the most pleasant family acts in town.
Review by Mary Beer
The Smartest Giant in Town is adapted for the stage by Little Angel artistic director Samantha Lane, who also directs, and award-winning musician Barb Jungr, who has also composed new music for the production. Their previous collaborations for Little Angel including The Singing Mermaid, Mother Christmas and The Pixie & the Pudding.
George wishes he wasn’t the scruffiest giant in town. So when he sees a new shop selling giant-sized clothes, he decides it’s time for a new look: smart trousers, smart shirt, stripy tie, shiny shoes. Now he’s the smartest giant in town… until he bumps into some animals who desperately need his help – and his clothes!
Little Angel Theatre, 14 Dagmar Passage, London, N1 2DN
The Smartest Giant In Town
Until 8 August 2021
Little Angel Studios,132 Sebbon Street, N1 2EH
Based on the book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Adapted by Barb Jungr and Samantha Lane
A Little Angel Theatre and Fierylight co-production
For ages 3-8