If a children’s show is meant to be strong on story-telling then this one fails. It is almost impossible to work out what is going on, especially in the first half, unless you have read either Russell Hoban’s 1968 classic novel or the programme synopsis. On the other hand, when work is as entertaining, spectacular and funny as this then, actually, the finer points of the plot don’t matter much.
Bettrys Jones (Child), Michael Hodgson (Manny) and Daniel Ryan (Mouse) in The Mouse and His Child at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon Photo: Tristram Kenton
From the moment linked clockwork mouse toys (Daniel Ryan and Bettrys Jones) are flown vertically, and with terrific tension, onto the stage the pulse never flags, as they set out on a quest, studded with serial adventures, to become self winding and independent.
Michael Hodgson gives an outstanding performance as toothy, menacing, ruthless but hilarious Manny Rat who leads a Faginesque den of rats collecting mechanical parts from hapless toys they destroy. His comic timing is a masterclass in how to work an audience although he’s much more than a stereotypical villain. David Charles is fun as a philosophising frog with a French/American accent, Naomi Sheldon is enjoyable as a saxophone-playing seal and Julia Innocenti is a delightful twitchy black crow given - with Martin Hyder as Mr Crow - to theatrical performances.
Rarely have I seen theatre which fizzes with as much energy as this does and that’s partly due to the onstage seven-piece band integrated into the action and often joined by actor musicians in the cast. There’s a lot of vibrant, upbeat jazz and other music and some splendid, spectacular whole-cast dance scenes. And with all that going on it’s easy to forget about not being quite sure who is who or what they are supposed to be doing and why.