Julia Donaldson is the JK Rowling for children under five. Everything she touches – usually in combination with illustrator Axel Scheffler – turns to publishing gold. Many of her bestselling rhyming works have been successfully adapted to other mediums, though this new production of 2010 hit Zog marks its first outing on stage.
For the uninitiated, Zog is a young dragon learning to fly, breathe fire and fight knights at dragon school. The catch is that he’s rather inept at all these tasks, until a chance encounter with wannabe doctor Princess Pearl.
In Mike Shepherd’s adaptation, Pearl (Emily Benjamin) becomes a pseudo-narrator, introducing the dragons and guiding us through the tale. Donaldson’s original text appears in snatches, but largely the script does away with rhyming couplets and feels almost pantomimic, the biggest laughs inevitably coming from a sprinkling of bottom gags.
The talented ensemble of actor-musicians fuse puppetry with dance and circus skills. It’s a wholly theatrical experience that works well on Katie Sykes’ scaffolding set, while Johnny Flynn’s playful songs showcase styles from bluegrass to musicals.
Those expecting a straight retelling of Donaldson’s tale may be disappointed, but this is an inventive interpretation that differs starkly from the recent animated incarnation. Although the narrative at times feels convoluted, it’s engaging nonetheless. My five year-old certainly enjoyed herself, and demanded to know at the curtain call when we could watch the next instalment of Zog’s adventures.