If, like me, you are allergic to pantomime (‘Oh, no you’re not!’; ‘Oh, yes I am!’) then help is at hand: the Gruffalo is in town and strutting his stuff, to the delight of legions of tiny fans, at the Lyric, Shaftesbury Avenue until 12 January.
Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved verse fable tells of a feisty, wily mouse who goes for a stroll in a ‘deep dark wood’ where he confronts his demons. Having encountered and outsmarted a series of peckish predators by inventing the Gruffalo, a black-tongued, orange-eyed monster, he comes face to face with (and outwits) his own terrifying fantasy creation.
It’s a tall order to translate a five-minute story into a 55-minute piece of theatre that will hold children’s attention, but Tall Stories’ musical adaptation just about pulls it off.
If some of the magic of Donaldson’s exquisitely turned rhyming couplets is diluted by the additional material, this is offset by the energy and sparkle of a trio of performers, especially Timothy Richey in a variety of incarnations: country-squire fox, Biggles-esque owl and a gloriously camp, spangly-bolero-clad snake.
There are catchy tunes, witty wordplay (references range from Shakespeare to Michael Jackson) and plenty of physical gags. And of course there is audience participation. At one point, the Mouse invited us to impersonate the Gruffalo with our loudest roar. Laying aside my inner panto-loathing misanthrope, I bellowed along with the best of them.