Review: CDP presents Tall Stories’ production The Gruffalo⋅
Heath Ledger Theatre, June 5 ⋅
Review by Rosalind Appleby ⋅
The theatre has the potential to be the ultimate playground for children. The sense of exploration is ignited just by climbing the stairs into the venue (especially the State Theatre Centre staircase with its stalactites hanging from the ceiling) and working out how to sit on the folding chairs. As teachers shushed and parents passed popcorn the sense of adventure was palpable at the Tall Stories (UK) production of The Gruffalo which opened in Perth this week.
The success of this adaption of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s classic storybook (touring Australia with CDP Kids) is that it takes a child’s imaginative potential and lets it flourish. The audience are invited into the adventure in true British pantomime style; there is no time for yawns in this action-packed hour, no need to dampen down lively spirits.
The audience were part of the storytelling from the outset as the three actors introduced themselves and applied their accessories onstage: a rope tail and a painted nose for the Mouse and hat flaps that turned into ears for the Fox. There was no doubting the characters or the story line and in several places the actors allowed the delighted children to fill in the gaps of Donaldson’s iconic rhyming verse.
The story about a mouse taking a walk in a deep dark wood is supplemented with song and dance numbers and lots of banter. Fox references Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail in his list of tasty meals, and blames a bouncing Tigger for his indigestion. Owl is a retired air force general who gets Mouse marching, while the sequined Snake dances a samba in front of his (fairylight adorned) logpile house. The additions are funny, smart and draw the audience deeper into the characters. The response was one of undampened enthusiasm as children shouted directions, completed the rhymes and screamed with delight when the shaggy Gruffalo came running into the auditorium to hide from the Mouse.
The all-Australian cast was led by Shannen Sarstedt as the sharp-witted, karate chopping Mouse, supported by narrators Kyle Kaczmarczyk (who doubled as a Gruffalo that was more softie than scary) and Skyler Ellis whose theatrics created hilarious caricatures of the woodland animals.
Isla Shaw’s forest set design was playful and lush, colourfully lit by James Whiteside. Jon Fiber’s music was catchy and Liesel Badorrek’s recreation of the work of original director Olivia Jacobs completed the entertaining package. My 6 and 8 year old theatre goers were completely caught up in the adventure, delighting in the bravery of the mouse and the antics of the Gruffalo. The show is marketed towards children 3+ and we can confirm it is an ‘enormouse’ success with kids of all ages.
Pictured top: Mouse meets the Gruffalo. Photo Heidrun Lohr. (Cast from the 2017 season).