This is the fourth consecutive year that Arts Educational Tring Park have brought a show to the Fringe and they have built up a well-deserved reputation for putting on creative, entertaining musicals.
This year is no exception with Stiles' and Drewe's musical based on the Just So stories by Rudyard Kipling.
It is a departure from their usual fare, in that it is a show for all the family rather than their previous forte which was sharp, caustic, dark humour.
However the talented cast of nine bring their comedic skills to Kipling's stories to excellent effect.
Once again standards of acting , singing and dance are uniformly high, as I've come to expect with Arts Educational. They work well as a group with excellent harmonies and inspired choreography from Lauren Southwick. They use the limited space imaginatively and with a refreshing exuberance much appreciated by the children (of all ages) in the audience.
The musical succeeds in capturing the profound simplicity and light-hearted wisdom which are the essence of Rudyard Kipling's writing. The playfulness of the animal characters is balanced by meaningful fragments of truth about identity and potential. Towards the end of the musical the Eldest Magician delivers the middle two verses from Kipling's poem If, which is recognised as one of the best inspirational poems ever written. It contains a gentle wisdom which can be easily understood by all.
The young, enthusiastic cast are excellent all-rounders who bring spontaneity and humour to their roles.
Will Rogers steals the show in his three roles as Parsee, Pau Amma and the Crocodile. He has a very mobile and expressive face and body which is perfect for physical theatre, but he also has that star quality and stage presence which catches the audience's attention. Lisa Bridge and Jeanna de Waal play the Zebra and Giraffe as a cross between Essex girls and East End WAGs, causing much hilarity. They also have very good voices, as does Dani de Waal as the Kolokolo Bird. Bart Edwards brings gentleness to his role as Eldest Magician and uses his voice very expressively in song and with the spoken word. His recitation from the poem If is powerful and moving. Craig Fletcher carries the key role of Elephant's Child well throughout the performance. Fiona Larkin succeeds in bringing personality and individuality to her role as "Cooking Stove" - no small achievement!
Sound quality, lighting and sound effects are good and there is excellent support from producer Simon Sharp on piano and from Paul Tame on keyboards.
I'm not sure that an English company giving the monster of the story a strong Glaswegian accent for a Scottish venue was entirely wise!
Costumes were inventive and very simple, though it would have made the story easier for everyone if the animal characters had been easier to identify by costume or make-up.
Just So is a charming, whimsical musical which will keep all the family entertained. Simon Sharp and Arts Educational Tring Park have another winning show on their hands.
Run 5-18 August 2007