Billed as a ‘show for all ages’, it’s hard not to be skeptical about how true that can be. Something that’s suitable for children can feel too young & simple for adults – similarly, shows that suit adults can go over children’s heads a bit. I’m thrilled to say that The Lorax ticks every box!
In case you’re unaware of the story, it is about a tree-loving creature called the Lorax and his entanglement with wannabe entrepreneur the Once-ler. Dr. Seuss’s original text may have been published in 1971, but its message remains relevant today and does not feel dated in the slightest.
This production is a musical; a possibly obvious but also ingenious move. The book is written in rhyme, so it actually feels very natural for characters to start singing. The main feel of the score is quite folksy, but a range of other genres of music also get showcased – from disco pop to heavy metal & traditional musical theatre. These songs are very catchy, which is testament to the work of Charlie Fink (music & lyrics) and Phil Bateman (musical director & arranger). I genuinely love the songs and wish that a recording could be made available! I think the soundtrack is enhanced by the fact that some of the musicians are also part of the ensemble; it brings the music into the story in a way that a pit band just wouldn’t have managed.
It’s not just the sound in the show that stimulates the senses, it’s also a feast for the eyes. The set really transports you to another world; the dank surroundings of the Once-ler’s tower, his very green family home, and Ho Horax (where the Lorax lives) are definite highlights. When the truffula trees appear in the latter it really is a sight to behold – the colours are just gorgeous.
This is taken to another level when you add in puppet work and some typically brilliant choreography from Drew McOnie. What I really love is that it becomes an experience as much as a piece of theatre when the swans swoop high & out over the audience. It is also enjoyable to see a short ballet section incorporated, in a kind of ode to Swan Lake’s ‘The Dying Swan’.
A brilliantly talented cast has been assembled for this show. Simon Paisley Day stars as the Once-ler, bringing an extraordinary energy & a terrific sense of comedy. He’s a born entertainer and really captures the style of the songs & the spirit of the character. He also works very well with Emily Houghton as Donkey.
The ensemble is fantastic – there are too many to go into individually, however I do have some highlights. In the matinée press performance that I attended McCann, McGee & VonGoo (Anabel Kutay, Carly Mercedes Dyer & Melanie La Barrie) got a rapturous reception following an amazing rendition of their song. One of the most called upon actor/musicians is Silas Wyatt-Barke; often you will find him in the background on acoustic guitar, though he does also get in the midst of things, both with & without a trombone! Another of my favourites is Richard Katz, particularly as the Once-ler Dad where he has great timing, but also as Stan attempting to find a rhyme for ‘orange’… There are a lot of quick changes for all the ensemble, so you can see just how hard they are working.
Obviously though, the star is the Lorax – and this moustachioed creature is a puppet operated by three very skilled puppeteers (Simon Lipkin, Laura Cubitt & Ben Thompson). Lipkin voices the character, but it is a real team effort that makes the Lorax so charming & hilarious; the moustache twitches definitely make me chuckle! But somehow you also get the creature’s emotions conveyed as you see his plight. I suppose it could be easy to get distracted by the puppeteers’ presence, but the bright orange & yellow of the Lorax held my focus – and I guess that’s helpful for the children in the audience as much as anything!
My verdict? A triumphant re-imagining of a classic tale, that provides entertainment & a pause for thought across the audience.
The Lorax runs at the Old Vic Theatre until 16 January 2016. Tickets are available online or from the box office. Concessions prices are available.