Writer: Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
Director: Mark Kane
Music and Lyrics: Benji Bower
The Donaldson / Scheffler kid-lit juggernaut has built up some very well deserved momentum over the years. The pair have produced some beautiful stories, illustrated with pictures that fire and inspire imaginations of kids and grown-ups alike. Who can say no to a few pages of The Gruffalo before bed?
Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales has (as we’re warned at the start) no Gruffalo in it. Instead, we have characters from four other storis – a small fish (the eponymous Tiddler), a scruffy but kindly giant, a little lost monkey and an old lady with an array of farmyard animals. They’re all recognised stories from the canon, favourites of some for years. Which makes their portrayal in the production all the more confusing.
The hour-long show, based on these tales, is a strange collection of wannabe zany antics and energy, stories that drag on for little reward (the Squash and a Squeeze story about the old woman in a small house seems particularly interminable), and meandering plotting
Compounding this is some difficult-to-follow storytelling. This is seen clearly in the monkey story that gets cut off twice so we can listen to other narratives before ultimately ending in a baffling anti-climax. The same confusion comes with Tiddler’s mates – the fish who were caught by fishermen and sent to market only to suddenly be right back in Tiddler’s school the next morning.
It also, oddly for a production aimed at toddlers, involves almost zero audience participation, interaction, or even acknowledgement from the stage that there was a room of 3-5 year olds here to experience stories they love. It would have looked and felt the exact same whether the kids were there or not. Maybe a legitimate production choice but it falls out of place.
Perhaps it’s all explained neatly in the songs? While backed by some nice music (and all credit to Joanna Brown for her clarinet playing), the actual lyrics are hard to hear either through muddy annunciation or uneven sound levels so it’s impossible to tell.
The children do laugh, of course, at points. There are some very charming moments that get their attention in the perfect way – the rope-based monkey puppet is brilliant, and the character of the Giant is lovely.
For an afternoon out, it’s fine for young children, but could be a lot better. These stories are great, though, in their own right. Maybe the way to get the best out of them is to go back to basics and get the books out for your own production. And yes, doing the voices is, of course, absolutely essential.
Runs until 21 August 2022