Fantastic Mr Fox – a new musical stage version of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s story – certainly lives up the fantastic in its name. I took Little Miss E, 7, and Little Man O, 5, to review it at the New Theatre Cardiff last night, and it is an absolutely brilliant show, for adults and children alike. We all loved it.
Sam Holcroft’s adaptation – written as part of last year’s celebrations surrounding the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth – takes the familiar story and truly makes it its own. It’s a fast-paced full-on rock musical, with plenty of catchy original songs backed by electric guitars and a drum kit. There’s lots of humour for adults and children alike and strong performances from a brilliant and enthusiastic cast.
Tom Scutt’s stage is slick, modern and nothing like the green rural setting you would expect to see in an adaptation of Fantastic Mr Fox. Most of the action takes place on a multi-level rotating podium in the centre of the stage, which becomes everything from the foxes’ lair to the pub where the three evil farmers plot their revenge on Mr Fox for stealing their food, and the various hen houses and food stores of the three evil farmers. Giant Hollywood-style light up letters spelling out Fantastic Mr Fox even make an appearance.
The show doesn’t shy away from some of the more gruesome elements of Dahl’s writing. In fact, in the opening scene one member of a barbershop style quartet of birds is shot dead by the farmers, who later describe in vivid detail pulling out the guts of various animals. However, just as in the books, the grotesque is delivered in such a humorous way that none of the children appear terrorised.
Raphael Bushray, Richard Atwill and Gruffudd Glyn are the three menacing farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean respectively. They have such a great rapport, playing off each other and obviously relishing their characters. Their musical number Feeling Foxy is sheer brilliance, surreal at moments yet utterly hilarious. It was one of my favourite moments of the show, Bushay’s flamboyance in particular.
All three also take on other roles in the show, with Bushay as Badger, Glyn as Mole, and Atwill as Rat. Atwill gave a brilliant turn as the drunken, boxer short and vest-wearing Rat, who entraps Mr Fox after he breaks into the cellar of food he has appointed himself in charge of. There’s such a distinction in the way all three play their different roles that it took my children a while to realise they were the same people.
Greg Barnett is Mr Fox himself (pictured below with Gruffudd Glyn as Mole). He plays the role with an air of cockiness, but also vulnerability too, with a refusal to admit that losing his tail to the farmers’ gunshots is hindering his agility, balance and mobility.
I also loved Lillie Flynn’s as his feisty wife, Mrs Fox. She has a lot more depth than the book equivalent and doesn’t let being heavily pregnant stop her from saving her husband from Rat’s clutches.
Jade Croot (pictured above) plays their daughter, Kit. The Merthyr teenager is just 17 years of age and has such an endearing confidence. My daughter thought she was wonderful.
The fox family are helped by a supporting cast of animals, the aforementioned Mole and Badger, as well as Kelly Jackson as the sweet, squeaking Mouse and Sandy Foster as the well-meaning but confused Rabbit.
My only criticism is that the overriding messages of the show – teamwork, every animal having their own purpose and so on – while important, were a little overlaboured for us adults, although the children didn’t seem to mind.
In terms of age guidance, I’d say children of 4 upwards would enjoy. it. I left my nearly-three-year-old Toddler Boy I at home with his daddy, which was definitely the right decision, as he think it would have been too much for him. We bumped into a classmate of Little Man, who was also loving the show with his dad. His nine-year-old sister had decided she was too old to go – but her dad said she would have loved it.
Fantastic Mr Fox lives up to its name as a fantastic show for families, bringing a new dimension to a much-loved classic. It’s the perfect half term treat.
Fantastic Mr Fox is at the New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 25th February 2017. The show is just over two hours with a 20 minute interval. Tickets are selling fast but there are still some available. See the website for details.
The show is currently touring the UK. More information here.
Thanks to the New Theatre for inviting us to review the show.
See my round-up of theatre shows for children in South Wales in 2017 here. There are more ideas for local family-friendly days out on the Cardiff section of Cardiff Mummy Says.