Fantastic Mr Fox – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Writer:  Sam Holcroft from the book by Roald Dahl

Director: Maria Aberg

Reviewer: Nicole Evans

Now over 40 years old, Fantastic Mr Fox is a children’s classic whose tale continues to delight generations and so, along with all of the Roald Dahl masterpieces, it is a natural choice for theatre companies worldwide to try their hand at recreating for the stage.

With many audience members likely to have adored Dahl’s stories for many years and having gone on to revel in sharing their passion with their younger family members, there are always going to be extremely high hopes that any adaptation does justice to the original work. Staying true to the story is the first hurdle, one which this production mostly clears by miles; the second, entertaining the most difficult to please audience members: the children. Sadly this is where this effort falls far short of expectations and leaves us with an overwhelming feeling of disappointment.
A promising start is provided by the Birds who, before they take their places above the main set as the impeccably-timed orchestra, introduce us to the three farmers with a catchy tune. Bean, Boggis and Bunce are instantly recognisable by all before they are named and the actors adopt the personas of their respective sinister characters with ease.

As Fox and the other animals arrive it is pleasing to see the costumes played down slightly; while all look very obviously like the creatures they are playing, the onus is on the actors to provide the mannerisms to convince us of the rest, and for the most part they succeed. Greg Barnett makes for a powerful Fox and effortlessly portrays the confidence of his sly character although he is outshone in his fox-like movements and expressions by Lillie Flynn as Mrs Fox and especially by Jade Croot as Kit, their daughter – who quickly stands out as the leader of the pack and whose enthusiasm and attention to detail impresses throughout. Sandy Foster, although occasionally overdoing the levels of excitement, charms as the oh-so-ditsy Rabbit and Kelly Jackson completely steals the show with her portrayal of Mouse, capturing our attention with her falsetto, thoroughly animated expressions and her constant mouse-like facial twitches every time she is on stage.

With the actors all showing their obvious individual strengths and working well together to keep up the rapport and knit the various aspects of the tale together, the production shows a lot of potential to be fantastic. So what goes wrong?

Although Dahl, and therefore Fantastic Mr Fox, automatically markets himself to a wide range of ages, it is a children’s story, and the show is pitched at children, a fact the creative team seem to have completely let slip their minds to the detriment of the whole production. Yes, the actors are clearly capable of belting out their many West-End-style numbers and engaging in complicated dialogues while staying in character but this, along with the adult humour and the well-choreographed routines, is completely lost on the production’s target audience. This point is unfortunately made obvious by the level of restlessness exhibited by the end of the first act, and further hammered home during the second when the biggest laugh of the night is raised by a small amount of slapstick and some bottom waving in the audience’s direction.
After hoping for a hint of some of the magic that previous Dahl adaptions have shown can be created with ease, you can’t help feeling this production could have been so much more impressive. The actors can’t be faulted and the cleverly designed set a work of art in itself but the content, although strong in its own right at times, shoots itself in the foot by trying far too hard to be something it just shouldn’t be.

A disappointing evening.

Runs until 22 April 2017 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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