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Aesop’s Fables review at Unicorn Theatre, London – ‘ancient tales given a contemporary twist’

The cast of Aesop's Fables in Tortoise and Hare. Photo: Craig Sugden The cast of Aesop's Fables in Tortoise and Hare. Photo: Craig Sugden

It’s great to see new Unicorn Theatre artistic director Justin Audibert giving Aesop his due attention amid the seeming ubiquity of Messrs Grimm and Andersen.

Co-directed by Audibert and Rachel Bagshaw, there are two compilations, one aimed at 4-7 year-olds, the other at the 8-12s. I took my five year-old to the former, to introduce her to some of the stories I loved as a child.

The first is a version of The Tortoise and the Hare – probably the best-known of the collection – cleverly reworked by EV Crowe as a playdate. As the competitive mums back their child to win the race for a snack-bar, the costumed children figure out the value of sharing.

Dog and Wolf by Kaite O’Reilly is an almost Beckettian duologue about the value of freedom, though its verbosity may be hard for younger children to digest. Frankie and the Crow by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig is a musical ode to friendship between two outcasts – one a bullied schoolgirl, the other a white crow. It’s the darkest, if also most predictable, of the quartet.

The best is saved until last: Ant and Hop (adapted from The Ant and the Grasshopper) by Annie Siddons is a real crowd-pleaser that shows two girls discovering the importance of teamwork and planning, via the medium of cake.

The cast is spirited and the design by Lily Arnold features an inventive mix of giant cardboard boxes, buttons and even cake-wielding mums. But the show as a whole is a curate’s egg of ideas.

Director Justin Audibert ‘The Unicorn’s audience is so honest: if it’s no good they tell you’

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Aesop's ancient fables are given a contemporary twist with mixed results