Fantastic Mr Fox, Roald Dahl’s story about how a wily reynard outfoxes three evil farmers, is a firm favourite among families. Parents around the world have recounted his antics to their children at bedtime and millions of kids have hung on every word.
The childhood years of my three children came flooding back at a press night of Fantastic Mr Fox at the Lyric, Hammersmith. The show, a co-production from Nuffield Southampton Theatres and Leicester Curve, is heading out later this month on an extensive UK tour and it’s a must see for families.
My kids devoured Roald Dahl’s books, re-reading them several times, and this fabulously foxy stage show captures all the fun, magic and black humour of the story.
Greg Barnett’s Mr Fox is one cool customer. He’s the Robin Hood of the animal world, stealing food from the rich – in this case the odious poultry farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean – and giving to the needy.
The other animals of the forest rely on his cunning to put food on the table, whether it’s a nice bit of brie for Mouse or a tasty carrot for a rampant Rabbit.
While a pregnant Mrs Fox stays at home to train up their youngest in stealth techniques, the rather cocky Fox is out raiding the farmers’ food stores.
Barnett’s Mr Fox comes across as a bit of a cocky rock star and if there’s any sort of moral in Fantastic Mr Fox it’s perhaps that the ordeal he must go through to survive the farmers’ guns instills some humility in him.
The farmers, particularly the rather sadistic Bean (RSC actor Richard Atwill so thoroughly evil that I was surprised that he wasn’t booed) is determined to blast Fox and all the other foxes out of existence.
He rounds up the hapless Boggis and Bunce and together they lay siege while the animals below ground come up with a cunning plan to avoid starvation.
The whole show is a delight from start to finish thanks to some fantastic characterisation. Sandy Foster’s riotous Rabbit quite obviously has a touch of myxomatosis.
She’s completely bonkers, a rabbit of very little brain, who proclaims the end of the world – “We’re doomed! We’re all going to die!!” – to, moments later, “We’re saved!” and dancing a jig.
There’s even a naughty double entendre involving a certain sex toy which will make the adults laugh and hopefully will go right over the heads of the kids in the audience.
Mole (Gruffudd Glyn, also playing Bunce) is a keen rock collector, carrying around his prize specimens in a rucksack while the Asperger’s Badger (Raphael Bushay, who also plays ever hungry Boggis) methodically writes everything down and likes a good, well-thought out, logical plan.
Kelly Jackson’s squeaky little Mouse sings about cheese and tries to keep Rabbit out of trouble.
All the comedy is very much of the slapstick kind and there are the inevitable wee jokes that seem to accompany any children’s show.
The production is played over Tom Scutt’s imaginative tiered carousel-style set which revolves and opens to reveal burrows, warrens, dens and warehouses – above and below ground. It’s very clever.
There’s cute a cappella singing from a quartet of birds – reduced to a trio after being spotted by Bunce – and musical numbers from Arthur Darvill, adaptor Sam Holcroft, Al Muriel and Darren Clark.
But most of all there is Roald Dahl’s fabulous, funny, tale about a truly Fantastic Mr Fox.
At Lyric Hammersmith until February 19.
February 21-25, New Theatre Cardiff February 28-March 5, Orchard Theatre, Dartford March 7-11, Milton Keynes Theatre April 3-9, Leicester Curve April 11-15, Oxford Playhouse April 18-22, Belgrade Theatre, Coventry May 2-6, Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield May 9-13, Cambridge Arts Theatre May 15-20, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh May 22-27, Theatre Royal, Glasgow May 30-June 3, Theatre, Royal Bath June 5-10, Wycombe Swan June 13-17, Theatre Royal, Plymouth June 21-24, Theatre Royal, Norwich June 27-July 2, Bradford Alhambra July 5-9, The Lowry, Salford Quays.
Fantastic Mr Fox
Fantastic Mr Fox is a fabulously funny adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic tale brought to life on stage with slapstick, music and larger-than-life characters. An unmissable family treat.