Adaptor: Sam Holcroft from the book by Roald Dahl
Director: Maria Aberg
Reviewer: Dominic Corr
‘As cunning as a fox‘, that’s what they say, isn’t it? Fantastic Mr. Fox is the latest of Dahl’s classics to move from page to screen and onto the stage. Though, is our titular fox truly as cunning as the phrase would lay claim?
Our opening is ripe with Dahl’s notable dark wit, though this stagnates quickly, returning only in fleeting moments, usually with the arrival of the trigger-happy stars of this evening; farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. Grim lines and visuals are sandwiched between live music delivered by three birds from on high, their ability to turn a tweet into a variety of instruments admirable.
In a tale as thinly veiled in its politics as one of Mr Fox’s whiskers, Sam Holcroft’s adaptation serves to entertain children and deliver sly nudges to the adults. Smug, boisterous and self-confident Mr Fox (Greg Barnett) is a keen hunter, fiercely protective of his family, but also his reputation. Inflating his ego, he becomes bolder, drawing the eye of the farmers. In their desperate bid to murder the fox, they only claim his tail. With this failure, farmer Bean is driven to destroy the forest to remove the fox family once and for all.
The set is rather ingenious, the factories are filled with visuals, yet it’s within Tom Scott design choices that we begin to sniff out inconstancies. Those remnants of Thatcherite farmers Bean and Bunce argue consistently about reclaiming their lush valleys. The issue? The entire set is grey; concrete, tyre tread blocks, and boxes. At no point do we see the proclaimed forest. For every strength, this production has something hampering it. Its duality is (in most cases) its weakness.
Arthur Darvill’s musical composition has enough inflexions of jazz and chords of rock to lift any blandness, though the lyrics feel very busy, disconnected from the scenes. Some are too literal to the story, to the extent they should just be delivered as dialogue. One song stands out miles above the rest. Driven by an animalistic sense of hunt, our farmers begin to release their inhibitions and think like a fox. Mad, deranged and in desperate need of the bathroom the number is catchy, humorous and serves to further the story through emotive visuals.
However, tonight’s performers are nothing but a strength. All three farmers double as animal cast members too, and While Bushay and Glyn do well as Boogis/Badger and Mole/Bunce. It is Richard Atwill, turning his hand to both Bean and Rat who devours every scene. As a sozzled Rat, we see a subtler jab at the underlying political message of self-preservation. As Bean, Atwill is vicious; just like all Dahl’s memorable villains. Ridiculous, callous and oh so delightfully enjoyable to watch.
Fantastic Mr. Fox isn’t exactly sure who it wants to cater too. This production attempts to cover all bases, but it trips and stumbles at times. It’s a gloriously fun evening, it is lacking some finesse but makes up for it with warmth, talent and zest.
Runs until 20 May 2017 | Image: Contributed