City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Gruffalo, Pleasance, Review

By Justine Blundell - Posted on 24 November 2010

Show Details
Tall Stories
Julia Donaldson (book), Axel Scheffler (book)
Running time: 

Earlier this year, BBC Radio 2 listeners voted this picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler the number one bedtime story for children. The responsibility of transforming such a well-loved read into a piece of theatre, performing it for an audience of beady little eyes and ears who can probably repeat the tale word for word, is perhaps a tall order. However, children’s theatre company Tall Stories, with their energetic blend of physical theatre, music and storytelling pulled it off with aplomb!

The simple set of the wood was reassuringly reminiscent of the pictures in the book, with the sound of bird song augmenting the outdoor scene. This adaptation saw the two narrators pushing Mouse, the main protagonist, into the ‘deep dark wood’ to search for nuts – hinting that she may not be brave enough to go the distance. Mouse then meets her three knee-trembling predators: Fox, Owl and Snake, all played by one of the narrators.

Each wants to eat Mouse, but she craftily scares them off through weaving a tale of an imaginary monster called a Gruffalo. When said Gruffalo, played by the second narrator, later turns into a terrifying reality, Mouse beautifully and resourcefully outwits him too. The ultimate message was triumphantly delivered to this core audience of 3-7 year olds: that with bravery, cunning and a bit of quick-thinking, sometimes the wee ones can outsmart the big ones.

As with many enduring children’s tales, it is the seductive rhyme and repetition that carries them along and draws them in, and here this was magically cued and mirrored in the movement and music. While the story contains inherent elements of fear, the children were too engrossed in all the familiar lines and easy-to-follow songs to notice.

As the recurring themes of the book slowly emerged, building trust in the faithful representation of the story, so the audience participation grew. There was much activity and high involvement when the audience were asked to help Mouse ward off her predators by roaring like the ‘pretend’ Gruffalo every time she raised her arms. Fox kept reappearing, to the children’s delight, who stopped waiting for the arms to be raised and roared – unprompted - deafeningly every time Fox appeared.

The performance successfully balanced the act of absorbing the kids while keeping their relatively elderly companions amused – a challenging but necessary skill for all children’s theatre. So while the children bounced along to the rhythm of the Gruffalo beat, the adults were kept suitably entertained by a decidedly spivvy fox, an owl from the RAF circa 1940 and a hilarious hip-wiggling, maraca-shaking rattle snake. The show culminated in a final song that had everyone clapping along together - feel-good lively fun for all!

Show times

The Gruffalo runs at the Pleasance until 9 December

Ticket prices

£11, £8.50