Writer: Roald Dahl (adapted for the stage by Sam Holcroft)
Music: Arthur Darvill
Lyrics: Darren Clark, Arthur Darvill, Sam Holcroft, Al Muriel
Director: Maria Aberg
Reviewer: Helen Tope
Dead birds and boozy farmers; Fantastic Mr Fox starts off with a bang. Stuffed full of cruelty and avarice, this production bears all the hallmarks of Roald Dahl’s novel. Adapted by Sam Holcroft, the play doesn’t shy away from the gleeful grotesqueness; it positively revels in it.
Farmers Bean, Boggis and Bunce are making a tidy profit from their land, and aren’t about to let the local wildlife snatch away a few morsels. Armed with superior weaponry, you would think this battle between man and creature would be a foregone conclusion. But in doing so, you would greatly underestimate the guile of Mr Fox and his band of loyal friends.
Fantastic Mr Fox tells the story of how sharing, and working together, makes a better world for the many, not the few. Dahl’s novel couldn’t be more timely, and the adaptation works hard to bring his principles into sharp focus.
The music (played live onstage) is steeped in the funk and rock of the Seventies – and bounces across the narrative. The songs feature lively rhythms and bold lyrics that really capture the energy of Dahl’s anti-establishment vision. When Farmer Bean allows himself to dream of what life would be as a fox, his unbridled joy speaks to the rebel in all of us.
Fantastic Mr Fox is chiefly aimed at children (of course) but there’s enough sly humour threaded throughout the play to keep the adults entertained as well. Rabbit’s lonely hearts ballad has a twist in the tail, making the innuendo hidden in the lyrics all the more delicious.
This is very much an ensemble piece, with many actors playing dual roles, but there are some terrific performances to enjoy. Greg Barnett as the Fantastic Fox himself and Lillie Flynn as Mrs Fox have a great chemistry that really centres the play. Barnett handles the title role with skill; for all his braggadocio, we still have to root for Mr Fox – and in this production, we do. As the bunny that needs no batteries, Rabbit (played by Sandy Foster) fills the stage with her energy and sense of fun.
It is fun that primarily rules this production, but it never loses sight of the source material. Fantastic Mr Fox touches on issues such as environmental damage and animal abuse; if you want a happy ending, it says, you have to get your paws muddy first.
Fantastic Mr Fox is a world of survival on a knife edge and dark impulses, but it also allows glimmers of justice to shine through. It’s far from perfection, but that’s what makes it so recognisable. It’s Roald Dahl’s world – and we’re lucky enough to live in it.
Runs until Saturday 17 June | Image: Manuel Harlan