I was so proud of the boys last summer when they’d tell anyone who’d listen that their favourite book was Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. It remains E’s firm favourite, B is just fickle. But last summer, with centenary celebrations across the city, it made me proud that I have passed my love of Roald Dahl to my children without consciousness.
So, of course, news that Fantastic Mr Fox was being brought to the stage, and was in Cardiff to coincide with the birthday of the person who gave me a love of Roald Dahl meant, of course, we had to celebrate my mum’s birthday at the New Theatre, Cardiff.
Roald Dahl’s story has been adapted for stage by Sam Holcroft. It’s not a purist’s translation, but it is so clever. I wanted to feel disappointed, but any sense was overcome with happy vibes.
An example would be that the boys love the cubs in the tale- I feel they associate with their adventures. On stage Mr & Mrs Fox have Kit, and Mrs Fox is pregnant. A case for feeling a little disappointed? Far from it. Mrs Fox’s feelings around pregnancy offers a wonderful theme, and Kit’s feistiness and love of technology had the children in awe. In this adaptation there is so much more than Roald Dahl’s story, which for me means that both can be loved, independently. There is of course enough to keep children entralled, mesmerised with mouths agog. My mum and I spent much time catching each others eye at how well-behaved my children were for the performance. I will take my small wins, they were a nightmare with their excitement waiting to enter the theatre.
This production was the most fantastic musical theatre. It had the best of catchiness, it had the emotion, it had the fun, and most wonderfully, it had a band on stage. Neatly interwoven with birds on a wire, this was something which saw me and my children so impressed. The music as a result was upbeat, eering on rock, and completely setting the tone for the audience aged 5+.
Tom Scutt’s design was another triumph of the production. Again, too far from the story and close enough to ensure appreciation. My love was for the revolving stage. It made the best of the space, and offered the audience across the theatre the best opportunity to observe the action. Not only was it great use of space, but the rotations also offered effective scene changes in an efficiency which left me agog.
I loved this staging. I am sure I saw swimming noodles used, again I loved the association, the beauty of imagery.The story itself did scare my children a little at the beginning. At 6 and 7 years I was surprised by this. B didn’t bat an eyelid. But CM and E both flinched and reached for mummy. As children who are completely familiar with the tale I was surprised.
As a result, I would put a health warning. CM explained this in that she really did not like the farmers. A reassuring arm around them allowed us to get past any discomfort. But a child in front of us did leave the performance within the first ten minutes not to return- and we’ve been there before in different theatres.
So, if you are watching with young or sensitive children, it’s worth making sure you have cuddles at the ready.For me, this is about being true to the motives of Dahl, he always put gruesome in its place, but this is alongside so much humour. And this truly comes across in the tale. Mr Fox (Greg Barnett) is consistently wonderful as Mr Fox, accompanied by some awesome performances- particularly of the dual role performers.
Boggis (Raphael Bushay), Bunce (Gruffyd Glyn) and Bean (Richard Atwill) also take on the roles of Badger, Mole and Rat respectively.. As mentioned CM’s fear of the farmers could only be created by their conviction, but that she was also laughing at Rat, Badger and Mole showing the versatility of these actors.
For me, it was Lillie Flynn as Mrs Fox. There was so much added context beyond the story, and so much beauty in her voice. I loved the relationship between Mr and Mrs Fox, the complexity of individuality within a relationship. This was one theme explored by both characters which felt in addition to the story, not imposed but neatly incorporated, with great benefit.Roald Dahl purist or not, this is definitely a production worth seeing – of musical theatre, for Dahl brought to stage, and for children.
Three generations left loving the performance, and as it continues on tour, it’s worthwhile buying a ticket, I hope that a return to a London theatre will conclude the run, just so I can take the children again over the summer.
For all ages 5+
Running Time: approx 2 hours & 10 minutes including 1 interval
28th February – 5th March – Orchard Theatre, Dartford
7th – 11th March – Milton Keynes Theatre
3rd – 9th April – Curve Leicester
11th – 15th April – Oxford Playhouse
18th – 22nd April – Coventry Belgrade
2nd – 6th May – Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield
9th – 13th May – Cambridge Arts Centre
15th – 20th May – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
22nd – 27th May – Theatre Royal, Glasgow
30th May – 3rd June – Theatre Royal, Bath
5th – 10th June – Wycombe Swan, High Wycombe
13th – 17th June – Theatre Royal, Plymouth
21st – 24th June – Theatre Royal, Norwich
27th June – 2nd July – Alhambra Theatre, Bradford
5th – 9th July – The Lowry, Salford Quays