Writers: Barb Jungr and Samantha Lane, adapted from the book by Julia Donaldson and Alex Scheffler
Music and Lyrics: Barb Jungr
Director: Samantha Lane
There is a reason that Julia Donaldson’s books for children, especially those brought to life by Alex Scheffler’s illustrations, remain perennially popular with both children and grown-ups. The stories are irradiated with warmth, affection and respect for others, as played out by characters drawn with a friendly style that one can’t help but be charmed by.
All those winning ingredients have led various theatre companies to adapt Donaldson and Scheffler’s work for the stage, hoping to convey the same sense of magic to a live audience as they experience when reading the work. Islington’s Little Angel Theatre is the latest to try, converting The Smartest Giant in Town into a delightful 45-minute musical.
Duane Gooden’s George is a scruffy giant with a desire to be smartly dressed, so when a shop in town that finally offers clothes in his size, he decks himself out in shirt and tie. Even while wearing a huge, perma-smiling puppet head that makes George look similar to Scheffler’s creation, Gooden convey’s the giant’s range of emotions throughout his whole body.
Meanwhile, Lizzie Wort and Gilbert Taylor play the human shopkeepers, as well as being the puppeteers for the various animals George encounters who have problems that the giant can only fix by donating his nice new clothes. Judith Hope’s puppet designs, especially when playing against Kate Bunce’s set design, really do feel like one has stepped into a Scheffler painting.
One thing that a stage production can’t quite portray literally is the sense of scale between animals and giant. Rather than overburden the show with trying, adaptors Barb Jungr and Samantha Lane rely on the same elements of audience imagination that allow wooden hillsides draped with blue silk to transform into a storm-tossed ocean.
As George hands over each item of clothing – a tie to convert into a scarf for a giraffe with a cold neck, a shirt to become a sail for a goat’s damaged yacht – the butter-fingered giant drops his gift, picking up a version that better matches the recipient puppet’s scale. It’s a fun sleight of hand, delivered with the same sense of repetition upon which children’s books aimed at this age group rely.
Jungr’s charming songs similarly build on Donaldson’s rhymes from the original, expanding upon each animal encounter with a sense of fun and warmth in keeping with Donaldson’s work. It all makes the tale’s moral – that being smart doesn’t need to mean well-dressed, it can simply mean using your intelligence to think of how to best help others – a delightful lesson to receive.
Continues until 8 August 2021