Much as it is a pleasure to discover a hidden gem amongst the mass of shows in Edinburgh, there’s also something very reassuring about having a list of reliable prospects. Whether it’s a venue, a regular show, a stalwart performer or a company, it’s nice to have these tentpoles around which to build your Fringe schedule.
The cast bring an unwavering energy to their roles
When it comes to children’s theatre, Tall Stories are my reliable go-to; a show by them is a guarantee of polish, production and professionalism. It’s usually a sure crowd-pleaser for all those under the age of 6, and many of those above. So it is with The Gruffalo’s Child, the latest in Tall Stories’ adaptations of the work of Julia Donaldson.
The show does a lot with a ‘source text’ of only 32 pages, creating ample room for songs, games and audience participation. I also very much enjoyed their cheeky nod to another Julia Donaldson character (“He’s a stick man, not Stick Man!”) and the inclusion of a few jokes aimed squarely at parents rather than kids.
As always, the cast bring an unwavering energy to their roles. Sophie Alice as The Gruffalo’s Child is a very engaging central character; childlike enough for the kids to empathise with but skilfully steering clear of making the brave little monster seem a little bit simple (an easy trap to fall into with child characters). Likewise, Catriona MacKenzie as the Narrator/Mouse holds the audience’s attention without stepping on anyone’s performances. Special mention, however, has to go to Andrew Mudie – a real quick-change artist, covering no less than five separate parts, each with their own distinct characters, accent and elaborate costume – and all without breaking a sweat, it seems.
Minor as they were, I did have a few issues with the show. While it feels churlish to criticise any children’s theatre company for attempting to offer value for money in terms of show length, The Gruffalo’s Child does feel rather longer than its target audience can deal with and a fair chunk of this extra time feels like filler designed to hit the sixty-minute mark. As it was, despite the regular sections of the show that aimed to get the audience involved, by forty minutes in, many of the younger children around me were distinctly done with sitting still.
These niggles aside though, The Gruffalo’s Child represents an excellent way to fill a summer holiday morning. Take your little monsters along for a roaring good time.