The Little Angel Theatre’s small stage is creatively transformed into the woods and farmland of Roald Dahl’s the Fantastic Mr Fox for a puppet adaptation of the story. This is a children’s musical with cider, guns and singing, everything you would expect from a theatre adaptation of the Fantastic Mr Fox.
The stars of the first half are the villainous farmers, who are in turn amusing and mean in a way that baits the young crowd perfectly. Farmer Bean is an eerie presence on stage, whose movements are slow and ghost like and perfectly match his character. Bean is obsessed with catching Mr Fox and famously does not eat but only drinks cider. The song discussing his peculiar dietary habits is a high point of the production; it’s a lively and amusing song that embodies the spirit of Roald Dahl’s original story. The two other farmers, Boggis and Bunce, are amusing idiots who fight amongst themselves and maintain petty squabbles throughout to the crowds delight. These are by far the more entertaining characters at first, whilst the foxes appear as bland minor characters in the face of these dastardly farmers.
However, in the second half the audacity and insatiable character of Mr Fox becomes more apparent and he appears a much more compelling character. There are many cheeky references to his taste for rabbit, which on this occasion he has to suppress as they are guests at his feast. Little Angel Theatre maintains the darker element to the story, whilst always remaining child friendly, and the audience are always reminded that Mr Fox is at heart a predator despite his convivial character.
As we follow the Fantastic Mr Fox into each of the farmer’s store houses the excitement and tension builds within the theatre. Mr Fox has a score to settle, he wants to invade the homes of the people who have invaded his home. Badger is quickly won over when they find Bean’s cider, and as he reminds us ‘cider is especially good for badgers’.
Some of the musical numbers are much stronger than others, they amuse and move the plot forward, and this is one of the productions main strengths. It is the music that Little Angel Theatre use to put their stamp of originality on it. The score is catchy and covers up some of the slower moments when the plot drags.
The set is creatively designed to provide a sense of different spaces and creates the illusion of very different locations at different times. There is a captivating scene when the mechanical diggers come to destroy the foxes home and the set is deconstructed before our eyes. Every square inch of the theatre is used, with the puppeteers using the central gangway at several points during the performance, and engaging with the young audience whilst they do so.
This is a children’s musical with just enough in it for the adults, it’s not of the same calibre as the Hollywood film but that is because this is a very different production. The puppetry is impressive and songs are catchy and fun but it flags at some points in the second half. The cast engage and amuse the audience, however it is the storytelling element of the play that is at points weak and means that whilst this tale of the brave and cocky fox is worth a watch, it won’t ever be the best version of the story you see.
Reviewed by Sean Morris
The Fantastic Mr Fox plays at the Little Angel Theatre until 9 November 2014