Writer: Roald Dahl
Adaptor: Sam Holcroft
Director: Maria Aberg
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
“No-one outfoxes a fox”. It’s an adage that is at the heart of Roald Dahl’s beloved tale – pardon the pun. But when Mr Fox isn’t quite as fantastic as he once was – besieged by his nemesis and minus his bushy tail – he’s going to need a little more than his wits in order to survive.
This production, in conjunction with Nuffield Theatre in Southampton, The Curve in Leicester and The Lyric Hammersmith is finishing its UK tour in Salford. Adapted freely from Dahl’s children’s favourite by Sam Holcroft this is a high end, large production value musical retelling of the story of a fox that, literally, has to dig himself out of a rather big hole.
The first thing to note about this production is that it is lots of fun. You may be forgiven for thinking so when one of the loveable all chirping, sweetly singing chorus birds cum band member is shot dead by one of the fearsome farmers within the first minute of the show. And after, the farmers’ menacingly up lit opening number about death, slicing and guts galore may worry many parents that they have brought their children to a rather dark show. The story, sticking to Dahl’s original, is macabre and packs no punches in dealing with death – whether that of the fox or the chickens he wants to eat. This production doesn’t quite delve into these murky depths but our loveable bunch of animals must certainly sing and dance their way out of desperation.
With periphery characters such as Mole, Rat, Rabbit, Mouse and Badger you would be easily forgiven in thinking you may be in the land of The Wind in the Willows. But farmer Bean, Boggis and Bunces’ shotguns are a stark reminder that they will not be messing about on the river. The fantastic Mr Fox (Greg Barnett), trying to upkeep his alpha male status despite his severed bushy tail, has a job on his hands. Surrounded by his fellow field mammals they must overcome the grotesque farmers lying in wait clenching their shotguns.
Wise Badger (Raphael Bushay), resembling an American football referee, has plans aplenty but is ignored by the increasingly arrogant fox trying to do the best for his family. Blind Mole (Gruffudd Glyn), looking like he is ready to go paintballing -kitted out in crash helmet, googles and overalls – bumbles his way around the stage. Slightly unhinged Rabbit (Sandy Foster) seems to have fully charged Duracell batteries … and has a very funny joke for the adults only about her special rabbit toy she keeps secret! And hedonistic and quite sozzled Rat (Richard Atwill) almost steals the show doubling also as Farmer Bean. With vixen Mrs Fox (Lillie Flynn) and young fox Kit (Jade Croot) relying upon him, Mr Fox must prove himself to be fantastic once again.
There is more than a touch of old versus young in Holcroft’s adaptation. There are certain lines that ring out loud: “I don’t have fun, I have responsibilities” and “not in our valley” declares Farmer Bean. One senses that this may be a dig at the mind sets between children and adults – the carefree attitude of the childlike animals and the set ways of the ‘adult like’ farmers. Whatever the intention this is a very fun production.
With just a few days to catch it before it finishes its tour it is a treat indeed. A live band with a rock score, a story of danger, high production values, funny lyrics and good comedy slapstick are great ingredients for a family show. Mr Fox, despite his physical shortcomings, must prove himself to be fantastic once again.
Reviewed on 5th July | Image: Contributed