Take a trip into the fantastical world of Dr. Seuss this Christmas, as Immersion Theatre bring a brand new production of Seussical the Musical to Southwark Playhouse for a strictly limited run. Playing the Large, it’s one of two alternative festive offerings at the theatre this year, as The Night Before Christmas opens in the Little later on this week. The company has taken on the ‘Theatre for Young Audiences’ version, which gives a compact running time of 75 minutes without an interval.
Perhaps the most iconic image associated with the work of Dr. Seuss is a bold red & white striped top hat – so it’s only right that The Cat in the Hat himself is on hand to guide us through the evening’s story. With his encouragement, JoJo’s imagination goes into overdrive, thinking thinks her parents would rather she didn’t… We also meet Horton, the incredibly loyal elephant who hears a “who!”; convinced a population of tiny people is living on a speck of dust, he puts it on a clover and vows to look after it in spite of what might happen to him. From then on, it’s a non-stop adventure as the clover is stolen & hidden, with lovestruck bird Gertrude McFuzz following Horton every step of the way.
I have to admit that I’m not massively familiar with the whole Dr. Seuss canon – I saw The Lorax at the Old Vic during both its 2015/16 and 2016/17 runs, and I think pretty much everyone has heard of The Cat in the Hat, The Grinch & Green Eggs and Ham, but other than that my knowledge is just more general (absurd creatures and ridiculous rhymes). As such, I’m not sure if this version contains elements from all 18 books that the full version mines, but judging by the 27-strong song list it definitely gives it a good go! The work of Dr. Seuss is certainly apt for turning into a stage production, given its rhythmical rhymes & lyrical potential – and cramming so much of it together makes for the utterly bizarre show that you’d expect.
The great thing about it is that it is truly inclusive, so audience members of all ages have different things catered towards them; a family show that genuinely lives up to the description, as well as not making unaccompanied adults feel like they shouldn’t be watching it!
On top of the silliness, there are some important themes covered, such as bullying, issues with body image, peer pressure, and judging people by their appearance. It’s all done in a very engaging manner, and manages not to shove it down your throat or be patronising in any way, so you can learn valuable lessons whilst still having an enjoyable time. Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty’s show is a whole bundle of feelgood fun.
Justin Williams & Jonny Rust’s set design immediately plunges you into the world of Dr. Seuss, with an abundance of red stripes and multicoloured flora – a fitting backdrop to a further splash of colour courtesy of Ben Jacob’s lighting design, not to mention some incredibly bold costumes (designed by Rachel Cartlidge). It’s a real treat for the eyes, and actually quite difficult to know what to watch at times. There is some terrifically dynamic direction from James Tobias, ensuring every possible inch of the auditorium is utilised, and Chris Whittaker’s choreography adds to the sense of fun.
Bringing everything together is a terrific cast, who all deliver committed and entertaining performances. Katie Paine is unflappable as the self-centred Mayzie La Bird, Scott Paige is extremely endearing as Horton and Amy Perry is suitably goofy as Gertrude. Anna Barnes makes a strong professional debut as JoJo, overflowing with enthusiasm and delivering crystal clear vocals.
However, it’s Marc Pickering who steals the show as the most perfectly cast Cat in the Hat you could possibly imagine! He has oodles of charisma and boundless energy, plus he has a real knack for interacting with the audience; from the slightest raised eyebrow to sitting in an empty seat next to an unsuspecting member of the audience, you can’t help but be entertained. Pickering also pops up in a multitude of other guises, each one as polished & hilarious as the other – it’s an utterly brilliant performance that will live long in the memory.
My verdict? A bundle of feelgood fun that also incorporates some important & relatable themes, all set to a terrific score with a dazzling backdrop – Marc Pickering’s performance steals the show.
Seussical the Musical runs at Southwark Playhouse (The Large) until 29 December 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office.