This stage adaptation of Roald Dahl's much-loved Fantastic Mr Fox is billed as a treat for the whole family and this is wholly accurate: the script carefully offers delights for older and younger audience members equally, appealing to all senses of humour. Moreover, the production itself is a compelling musical spectacle whose bold simplicity and stylish panache could cater to a range of tastes.
The general concept for the show, with its motif-based animal costumes and cartoonish set design, is attractive to the eye and strangely satisfying, in the way that plastic toy food or doll's house furniture is. The dance routines, in line with the overall style, are basic but pleasing to watch and unfussy in a good way. The songs they are performed to are perhaps teetering on the wrong edge of basic - I couldn't hum any of them now. This is with the exception of the banging rock tune, 'Think Like a Fox', performed by the farmers in the second half of the show, which was nothing short of spectacular.
Two of the cast members having been struck with illness, there had been some shuffling around of parts for the performance last night, resulting in the Resident Director, Chloe Mashiter, stepping in at the last minute. She did a very impressive job, bringing 'Rabbit' to life with buckets of charm and character. Tanya Shields, usually an ensemble member, also stepped up to play Mrs Fox, and did so with emotional realism; I particularly enjoyed her powerful performance of the song where Mrs Fox reminds Mr Fox that she is more than just her role as his wife. It is a credit to the whole team, given the disruption to the normal show as rehearsed, that there were no obvious slips at all; the pace was apparently unhindered and the show had a huge amount of energy.
The acting style in general constituted bold physical gesture and heightened characterisation, and this was particularly successful in the cases of Mr Fox himself, played by Greg Barnett with a camp, boyish exuberance, and farmer Bunce, played by Gruffudd Glyn, whose comic timing was fantastic.
Some moments of the show are more than a little bit scary - if you will be watching with little ones and sitting in the front rows, it may be worth preparing them for the scary red-eyed dog who will appear amongst the audience towards the end of the show. Also, the bloodthirsty farmers refer continually to murder and death, albeit that of a fox. That said, the show certainly doesn't endorse the violence which the farmers speak of, and the take-home message of friendship and unity in the face of violent enemies is equally unsubtle.
It was very clear that this is an ensemble with a strong bond who are having fun onstage, which really was a joy to watch. And judging by the contented giggles occasionally erupting from the generally quiet and attentive young audience, they would agree with me.