By Lia Cocks
If you have children, and perhaps even if you don’t, you have almost definitely read The Gruffalo.
A children's classic by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler which has sold over 13 million copies, won several prizes for children's literature, has an Oscar nominated animated film, it is now also the play which has had sell out seasons on Broadway and London’s West End.
The story of The Gruffalo is based on a Chinese folk tale of a fox that borrows the terror of a tiger, however Donaldson was unable to think of rhymes for ‘tiger’ so instead invented a word that rhymes with ‘know’. And the rest, as they say, is history…
The mouse’s tale is one that unfolds in two phases; whereby the mouse uses crafty tricks to circumvent danger.
On his way through the deep dark wood, the mouse encounters several dangerous animals (a cunning fox, an eccentric, Sergeant-type owl and a maraca wielding snake). Each of these animals, clearly intending to eat the mouse, invite him back to their home for a ‘meal’. The astute mouse declines each offer, and instead tells each animal that he plans to dine with his friend, a gruffalo.
This gruffalo is a hideous creature whose favourite food, coincidentally, happens to be fox, owl and snake, and the mouse describes the features of the gruffalo’s terrifying anatomy. Frightened the gruffalo might eat it, each animal flees. Believing the gruffalo to be fictional, the mouse gloats to the audience:
'Silly old fox/owl/snake, doesn’t he know? There is no such thing as a gruffalo!'
After getting rid of the last animal, the mouse is shocked to run into a REAL Gruffalo - with all the horrifying features the mouse described! The Gruffalo threatens to eat the mouse, but he is too artful, and tells the Gruffalo that he, the mouse, is the scariest animal in the forest. Laughing, the Gruffalo agrees to follow the mouse through the forest as he demonstrates just how feared he is.
The two walk through the deep, dark wood encountering all the animals that earlier menaced the mouse. Each of them are terrified by the sight of the pair and runs off - each time impressing the Gruffalo with the mouse’s apparent toughness. Exploiting this, the mouse threatens to eat the Gruffalo, at which he flees.
The mouse is left, completed content, holding the biggest hazelnut you have ever seen.
Dunstan Playhouse is the perfect venue for this type of show - every seat has fantastic views. The set and lighting are remarkably done - cartoon, fairytale like, just like the book.
A charming three hander, each of the actors brought to life the characters via a quick jacket change, turn of the hat and some sequins.
Shannen Sarstedt is absolutely beautiful as the Mouse. Her gorgeous, honest and true voice, matched her characterisation to the point that my daughter and I almost forgot she was a human playing a mouse!
Kyle Kaczmarczyk, as The Gruffalo, was equally charming, frightful and hilarious in his portrayal of the title character. But his work as the Narrator was incredibly physical, comedic and ingenious.
But Skyler Ellis really stole the show, not only as Co-Narrator, but as the wily Fox, the regimented Owl and the flamboyant, hip swivelling Snake. At one point, my five year old daughter turned to me and said ‘he doesn’t look like that in the book, mummy, but I like this snake better!’
Ellis and Kaczmarczyk’s incredible vocal sound effects, pantomiming, slapstick and audience participation were reminiscent of the Umbilical Brothers. They were completely engaging, humorous and utterly enthralling.
Special mention to Morag Cross for the fantastic choreography, which really highlighted the text, songs and characters.
We absolutely loved this inspired, captivating and whimsical tale - and cannot wait for more from this talented company!
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.