If you dramatise one of the most popular picture books ever written then you have to present something that your young audience will recognise instantly both visually and orally. The creators of this successful show – which has been around since 2001 so it’s now almost a classic – understand that very well. Isla Shaw’s set is a fairly exact replica of Scheffler’s “deep dark wood” and the cast play effectively to the fact that many of the children present know the book by heart. But this enjoyable show also adds theatricality which is new to the book’s fans. Thus we get lots of tuneful songs in a range of rhythms with the melody at the top of the texture and some engaging, gently pantomimic, interaction.
Ellie Bell is a warm, childlike frightened mouse that everyone in the audience identifies with. There’s exemplary work from versatile Timothy Richey as a cockney wide boy fox, a hooray Henry owl in RAF uniform and a glitteringly camp snake. Owen Guerin eventually morphs from other roles into huge, galumphing and cuddly Gruffalo – who may or may not exist – and is eventually seen off by the mouse who has learned to be assertive. It all works satisfyingly because it’s essentially a version for tinies of the traditional overcoming a monster or David and Goliath story.