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The Lorax review at the Old Vic Theatre, London – ‘spellbinding’

Emily Houghton, Simon Paisley Day, Laura Cubitt and Simon Lipkin in The Lorax at the Old Vic Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton Emily Houghton, Simon Paisley Day, Laura Cubitt and Simon Lipkin in The Lorax at the Old Vic. Photo: Tristram Kenton

“What on earth is a Lorax?” asks one character. “Or who?” adds another. “And what wonderful thing did he, she or it do that made someone build statues where nobody goes?”

He’s visible beaming on the poster and cover of the programme, so it’s not much of a spoiler to tell you that he’s a spud-shaped (and spud-coloured) puppet with a blonde walrus moustache. He turns out to be a creature with an environmentalist’s zeal to preserve his territorial claim to an area of land where Truffula trees grow.

In the course of the two hours of rough magic storytelling that unfolds at the Old Vic, The Lorax – the first stage production of the Dr Seuss story – turns out to be a family entertainment with both meaning and a message. Magical is an overused word, especially at this time of year, but a show that manages to hold a potentially rowdy audience (with a huge proportion of school parties and other youngsters) entirely rapt can lay fair claim to that adjective.

A richly weaved and spellbindingly told allegorical tale of human greed follows, as the Onceler (Simon Paisley Day) lays waste to an ever-increasing swathe of the forest to produce “the thneeds” he’s put into mass production – a product without a specific purpose but which everyone seems to want one of. “A thneed is something that all people need,” he explains. He could just as easily be talking about an iPhone.

And in a week when the share prices of Sports Direct nosedived after the exposure of bad business practices, the show is also topical, here revealing the amorality of a big business.

David Greig’s witty, constantly rhyming adaptation has, in common with his stage version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory running in Drury Lane, a big help from original songs, provided here by Charlie Fink, former frontman of Noah and the Whale, that turn it at times virtually into a full-blown musical. Where Charlie also had powerful life lessons to teach and learn, The Lorax is a leaner family show with fewer special effects. But the cumulative effect is even more special as result.

It is blessed with a vigorous, rigorous ensemble cast. Only two parts are actually named: the Onceler (buoyantly played by Paisley Day, all bouncy energy disguising a darker purpose) and the Lorax, though the latter is an ensemble effort. He’s manipulated by three performers, with Simon Lipkin (Avenue Q, I Can’t Sing!, As You Like It) as lead puppeteer and his voice. He also pulls the heartstrings in the title role of this thoughtful piece of theatre.

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Verdict
The best kind of theatrical storytelling for all ages in a spellbinding production that could become a regular fixture

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