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What the Ladybird Heard

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There’s plenty to commend in this four-hander adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s popular children’s book. The cheerful farmyard set is effectively a three-dimensional version of the page, instantly recognisable to most of the pre-school children present. The songs are tuneful and attractive.

Rosamund Hine has an eloquent, expressive mezzo singing voice, and Rachael Henley’s mercurial flute-playing gives the eponymous ladybird – presented as a Tinkerbell-style light – real sparkle. Matt Jopling is good value as Tom, with a fund of funny voices and faces, and warmest congratulations to understudy David Shute, who stood in for Matt Bateman at the performance I saw. The scene in which Jopling and Shute are burglars and sing a song about their wicked intentions is nicely done.

On the other hand, If you’re going to create ingenious animal puppets from farmyard bits and pieces – a dog from a broom, duck from secateurs, horse from an old zinc bath and so on – then it would make sense to do something with them once created. This show falls disappointingly flat in that it doesn’t really run with what it has. It could be much more original.

Some of the acting, moreover, is hammed up for small children, which feels a bit patronising. And why has it become almost de rigeur for children’s shows to start by pretending that something has gone wrong and the show can’t run? This has become a tired cliche. Time to think of something fresh.

Verdict: Jolly songs and a colourful set, but aspects of the show are unoriginal

Susan Elkin

  • Cadogan Hall, London
  • July 26, then touring until September 28
  • Authors: Julia Donaldson, Howard Jacques additional lyrics
  • Music and lyrics: John Fiber, Andy Shaw
  • Director: Graham Hubbard
  • Design: Bek Palmer lighting, Ric Mountjoy design consultant
  • Technical: Nick May production manager, Trina Bramman puppet maker, Debbie Mingham junk animals, Lisa Hickey wardrobe supervisor, David Shute assistant stage manager
  • Producer: Kenny Wax Ltd in association with Matthew Gregory
  • Cast: Rosamund Hine, Rachael Henley, Matt Jopling, Matt Bateman, David Shute
  • Running time: 55mins

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Jolly songs and a colourful set, but aspects of the show are unoriginal