The Gruffalo's Child

The Gruffalo's Child
CDP Theatre Producers present Tall Stories' musical adaptation of The Gruffalo's Child. Adapted from the award winning picture-book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, published by Macmillan Children's Books. Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne. April 10 - 17, 2021.

Original Director: Olivia Jacobs. Creative Producer: Toby Mitchell. Associate Director Australia/New Zealand: Liesel Badorrek. Designer: Isla Shaw. Lighting Designer: James Whiteside. Puppet Designer: Yvonne Stone. Choreographer: Luanna Priestman. Music and Lyrics: Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw. Additional Lyrics: Olivia Jacobs and Robin Price. Music Production: Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw for Jollygoodtunes.

Doing research for this review I read The Gruffalo and The Gruffalo's Child books.  Whilst reading them I had similar feelings to when I read Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak as a small child. I wanted to be part of the adventures. I wanted to meet these 'monsters' who looked both scary and cuddly. And now seeing The Gruffalo's Child live on stage I'm sure many of the young audience will carry these similar feelings well into their adulthood and no doubt share them with their children. They've now seen the Gruffalo and his child up close and it was thrilling! The Gruffalo books are great, but this live musical version from the West End takes the stories to the next level. Unlike the one-dimensional characters in the books the live show has fleshed them out and are more relatable. They sing, dance and have funny stories to tell. Considering the audience is aimed at three years plus they mostly listened very intently, and when encouraged to were happy to join along clapping, doing actions or yelling out the well-known lines from the book.  

Despite her father's warnings, the Gruffalo's Child ventures out into the cold and snow to The Deep Dark Wood in search of the 'so-called' Big Bad Mouse. Enya Daly plays the Gruffalo's Child with much naivety on one hand and on the other hand (in which she carries her friend Stick Man to protect her) with spunk and bravery. Her rousing song 'Stick With Me' was toe-tapping and reassured the young audience that all would end well - eventually. All the songs (written by Jon Fiber, Andy Shaw, Olivia Jacobs and Robin Price) including a heart-warming lullaby hummed by the Gruffalo to his sleepy child were equally as tuneful and melded well into the story. Madison Hegarty plays the Mouse, who for the entire show is cute and likeable and hardly scary. Eventually, she tricks the Gruffalo's Child into thinking she is the Big Bad Mouse. This is achieved with the help of puppetry and projecting her silhouette against a giant full moon.  This scene had the children captivated!  Skyler Ellis definitely has the most fun and the most frantic costume changes backstage! He has four main roles including Snake (a Latino dancing instructor who invites the audience to his new 'skin warming party'), Owl (an aging air force pilot who attempts to teach the audience to fly), Fox (a sly salesman out to make a quick buck) and the Gruffalo himself.  His warm-hearted portrayal of the Gruffalo and incredibly snuggly costume made you want to be cuddled on his knee (like the Gruffalo's Child) and be sung to sleep.  

Enya, Madison and Skyler are to be congratulated on putting 100% into their heartfelt character portrayals, comedic timing and engaging choreography. The beautiful set consisting of forest sized trees the cast move around to represent different scenes is spectacular. The lighting and sound design though simple achieved its purpose without scaring the little ones too much. 

I think the smiling face of my three-year-old great niece sums up The Gruffalo's Child. For the entire hour she was mesmerised, entertained and treated to an experience she'll never forget - ever!  

Jonathan Cox

Photographer:  Heidrun Lohr

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