After making its debut at Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre towards the end of last year, Sam Holcroft’s stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved Fantastic Mr Fox is on its way around the UK – currently playing for a month at the Lyric Hammersmith. With music and lyrics from actor and composer Arthur Darvill, this fun family show is perfectly timed to counter the winter blues.
Mr Fox and his animal friends have got a good thing going, with him stealing all sorts of food from the local farmers (Boggis, Bunce and Bean) without getting caught. Unsurprisingly, the farmers grow tired of this and plot to rid themselves of the furry thief – first, shooting his magnificent tail off, then trying to dig their way down to the home he shares with pregnant Mrs Fox and their daughter, Kit. Along with Mouse, Rabbit, Badger and Mole, they evade the farmers by digging further underground. They soon start to get hungry and Mr Fox realises he will have to find some source of food for his family and friends – but can he do it alone?
What this show does wonderfully is bring Roald Dahl’s world vividly to life. Both Holcroft and Darvill mention in the programme notes how they wanted to make their own version but in the same spirit as the original – I’d say they’ve definitely achieved their goal. Dahl’s books were constant companions of my childhood, and the show feels very recognisable from the beginning, retaining disgusting little details that children and adults alike find endlessly entertaining, as well as the central message of generosity and kindness: “The adventure never ends when you’ve got fantastic friends.”
Tom Scutt’s set design shows an incredible amount of detail (including a revolve), which is quite a feat considering it’s a touring production and will need to be taken down then reassembled on a regular basis. It makes good use of the entire stage, with a lot of action taking place on a higher level as well as on the ground – even including a space for the band just in view on the platform. What I also like about the show’s design is that there are no animal masks; the different creatures are made clear by certain characteristic features (such as ears and tails), but it’s quite simplified with a modern twist.
Lee Curran is fast becoming one of my favourite lighting designers, following some stellar work on Imogen last year, and he does not disappoint here. There’s an engaging palette on show, as well as great use of up-lighting to create shadows and evoke the feel of an action film when the stakes are raised.
The entire cast are worked extremely hard for the duration of this two-hour show – for example, the farmers have to double as animals with some very quick changes. It really is hard to single anyone out for particular praise, as they each have some great moments.
Raphael Bushay, Gruffudd Glyn and Richard Atwill are dastardly as Boggis, Bunce and Bean, whilst also being utterly hilarious. They are obviously the villains of the piece, but it’s great fun to also be able to thoroughly enjoy all of their moments onstage. Their animal counterparts (Mole, Badger and Rat) are equally entertaining.
Sandy Foster as a slightly dim, easily excited Rabbit is a scream – her reaction to Mr Fox bringing back carrots for her is absolutely priceless. Kelly Jackson brings a feistiness to Mouse (“Don’t pick me up!”), but also has a really adorable moment as she sings a short song about her love of cheese.
The Fox family (made up of Jade Croot as Kit, Lillie Flynn as Mrs Fox and Greg Barnett as Mr Fox) are as spirited as you might expect. All Kit wants to do is join her father on a raid, but her parents don’t think she’s ready; Croot does well not to make her character too sulky about this, so you do feel her frustration. Mrs Fox is also champing at the bit to have another adventure, prevented from going out due to her “condition” – despite this, Flynn also brings a playful feel to the character. Her duet with Barnett in the second act is both funny and moving, really showing off their fantastic vocals. Barnett himself is charismatic in the titular role, oozing confidence and showing great humour. There couldn’t be anyone better suited to the part.
My verdict? A terrific show for all ages that stays true to the Roald Dahl we all know and love – fantastic in more ways than one!
Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox runs at Lyric Hammersmith until 19 February 2017. Tickets are available online and from the box office. It then continues its UK tour – full details can be found on the official website.