Fantastic Mr Fox review at Nuffield Theatre, Southampton – ‘enjoyable but uneven’
Roald Dahl’s 100th anniversary year comes to an end with a colourful adaptation of his farmyard yarn, Fantastic Mr Fox, set to music by former Doctor Who star Arthur Darvill and adapted by Sam Holcroft. But while it makes for a decent children’s show, it’s uneven – a Fox that needs fixing.
From the off, it seems that the darkness at the heart of Dahl’s work has thrillingly insinuated itself into this adaptation. Boggis rips a head off a rubber chicken, blood spurts out. Bunce eviscerates a goose and waves its dangling entrails around. But it’s a macabre bite that isn’t sustained as the show instead turns into a charming, but simple, moralistic tale about working together and playing to each other’s strengths.
Greg Barnett nails the slick arrogance of Mr Fox, but the best performances are in the supporting cast: Kelly Jackson’s squeaky, slightly volatile mouse spars perfectly with Sandy Foster’s hilariously idiotic rabbit, and Richard Atwill as mean farmer Bean is an evil delight.
Darvill’s jaunty rock music isn’t bad. The songs are oddly structured, with rapid changes in tempo and style, which add a frenetic pace to some scenes and contribute to the clunk of others. And, considering how many lyricists are credited, there are some perfunctory, predictable rhymes like: “we’re the greatest team you’ve ever seen, no greater team there’s ever been”.
There’s a spryness and a slickness missing from Maria Aberg’s production. Carefully choreographed slapstick scenes are ever so slightly mis-timed, and so never build momentum. Tom Scutt’s three-tiered rotating wedding cake design is very colourful but this soft play area of a stage, with foam rubble and foam vegetables and foam grass, is over cluttered and messy. So although the not-quite-fantastic end result doesn’t reflect the excellent team behind it, it’s still an enjoyable way to celebrate one of the greats of children’s literature.