CentralChildrensDramaFamilyFestive 16/17Review

What The Ladybird Heard – Town Hall, Birmingham

Writers: Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks (original book)

Director: Graham Hubbard

Reviewer:  John Kennedy

Shake off those tinsel and turkey cobwebs with fifty-five minutes of farmyard festive fun and frolics with this delightful stage adaptation of the award-winning eponymous picture book by Julia Donaldson &Lydia Monks.

Participation is optional – hilarity jolly well near compulsory. Kenny Wax Family Entertainment in association with Matthew Gregory have crafted a well-honed and witty script that features The Farmer, Lily and Eddie together with ‘volunteer’ Raymond allegedly from the cohort of THSH ushers. Pantomime protocols are soon established with copious opportunities for call and response in a near capacity Town Hall.

Ill met by moonlight, two nefarious and incredibly dozy cattle-rustlers, Hefty Hugh and Lanky Len, scheme to cow-nap the farmer’s prize-winning heifer. Little do they know that our heroine, the titular, but incredibly shy red and black winged bug, has earwigged on this dastardly deed and is on their case. With conspiratorial guile, she enlists the help of the farmer’s menagerie of animals to outwit our bovine bunglers.

The animals are ingeniously contrived and fabricated from farmyard objets trouvé that ooze immediate character and charm. Hefty and Lanky, straight man and foil respectively, have plenty of opportunities for slapstick and pratfall shenanigans.

With song and dance to both live instruments and a rather snazzy clarinet syncopated jazz-swing motif that runs throughout the show, hand-puppets jive, a bathtub/bicycle ‘horse’ gives birth to a watering-can foal – obviously – and the wheelbarrow sheep sashays sweetly. Sets, props and lighting are all picture-book prim and pastel precise.

Little Miss Ladybird makes a later appearance in a manner of teasing apparitions that have the children captivated. It might be provident to allow her more stage presence earlier on to engage with the children, it is forty minutes before we meet her. When Hefty and Lanky are about their botched burglaries there are rich opportunities for panto prompts to add a frisson of tension and shout-out teasing from the audience. Small quibbles. There’s an innocent and beguiling intelligence to this show that rarely fails to keep pace, originality and wit to the fore. Recommended.

Runs until 11 January 2017 | Image: Contributed

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