You wouldn’t know this Tall Stories show is 20 years old this year. In its current incarnation, The Gruffalo at Alexandra Palace seems as fresh as though it had just come out of rehearsals, with the actors having so much fun on stage the audience can’t help but giggle along with them. Ashley Sean-Cook was having particular fun as the storyteller on the afternoon I saw it with my three children, causing Jake Adley (Predators) to exclaim “I can’t work with you! Just let me get my line out!” when Sean-Cook was over-enthusiastically shaking the snake. And Adley got his own back by doing a slow breast-stroke across the stage as Fox, causing Rebecca Newman (Mouse) to look at her watch and deliver an aside to the audience: “Fox is really pushing it! I hope nobody has anywhere they need to be.”
Whether we had places we needed to get to after or not, we were more than happy to linger on our journey with this tight ensemble of three as they told the story made famous by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book. Addley has the most costume and voice changes as he takes on the role of the Predators: a fox who is a rapping wide boy, a clumsy owl who’s an airforce pilot and a vain flamenco dancing snake. Each predator has its own song in the style of the character, which are well written and catchy.
There is unlikely to be anyone in the audience who doesn’t know the story from reading the book. A mouse journeys through the deep dark wood and fights off predators by inventing a creature called the Gruffalo that she’s on her way to meet. Things take a turn when the Guffalo actually appears, and to prevent the Gruffalo from eating her, the mouse journeys back through the wood and shows the Gruffalo how everyone is actually terrified of her (because of course the Gruffalo is standing behind). It is a satisfying story that pleases the adults in the audience as much as the kids and there is so much more fun in the show than the book as the creative team string the story out to last 55 minutes. The actors play with the idea that the audience know the book causing them to call out the correct ending to a line in frustration when they are getting it wrong and ensuring they remain engaged throughout.
The Gruffalo’s costume of shaggy cuts of fabric and purple prickles causes an ah from the audience, who are particularly thrilled when he jumps down into the auditorium and asks particular people if they can take him home.
Because the ideal age for this show is between 2 and 7, the show may be old, but the audience is always new.
Predators (cover Mouse): Jake Addley
Mouse: Rebecca Newman
The Gruffalo: Ashley Sean-Cook Understudy (Predators and Gruffalo)/ASM: Alastair Chisholm
Director: Olivia Jacobs
Co-Director: Toby Mitchell
Company Stage Manager: Emma Eldridge-Doyle Designer: Isla Shaw
Puppetry Designer: Yvonne Stone
Lighting Designer: James Whiteside
Costume Supervisor: Martin Rodges
Costume Makers: Christine Atkinson, Calum Harvey, Aislinn Luton, Alice Lessing
Production Manager: Nick May
Choreographer: Morag Cross
Associate Choreographer: Bex Allingham Marketing: Jane Morgan Associates
Press & PR: Bread and Butter PR
Set construction: Harrogate Theatre Scenic Services Set refurbishment: Entify
Music and lyrics by Jon Fiber, Olivia Jacobs, Robin Price and Andy Shaw
Music production by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw for JollyGoodTunes