Dr Seuss's The Lorax

Adapted for the stage by David Greig
Old Vic Theatre

The Lorax Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Lorax Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Lorax Credit: Manuel Harlan

The Lorax has been around for quite a while. First in a book back in the seventies, then Danny De Vito voiced him for a movie in 2012 and in 2015 David Greig's rhyming adaptation debuted at the Old Vic as part of Matthew Warchus's first season as artistic director. Now it's back for a very limited run, again at The Old Vic, ahead of its US tour next year.

Despite being full of fabulous puppetry, colour and music, there's a very serious message oozing from every line of this carefully crafted script. Draped in orange fur and a ridiculously oversized moustache, The Lorax is on an environmental crusade to stop the greedy "Once-lers"—who are clearly a metaphor for capitalism, from destroying the planet in their pursuit of wealth, power and material possessions.

The magical land in which they all live is repeatedly referred to as paradise due to its abundance of spectacularly vibrant Truffula trees, sparkling lakes and fresh unpolluted air. But all that's rapidly destroyed when the ambitious Once-ler played by Simon Paisley Day heads out into the world determined to make his fortune. To do that, he needs space, people and most importantly the scared Truffula tree in order to knit his 'thneeds'. These are basically colourful shawls which are now in big demand by the growing, ever-demanding population.

The Once-ler is torn between doing the right thing and his obvious thirst to be super successful. As the nation's natural resources wither away, so does his sense of respect and love for the very thing that made him rich in the first place. You probably know someone like The Once-ler—loveable and loathsome, naïve and at times ruthless—a combination of characteristics also reserved for the rest of the Once-ler family we meet along the way. Without names, the Once-ler ensemble is fairly one-dimensional, unmemorable and for that reason quickly forgettable.

The same cannot be said for the star of the show. We all know that behind every great puppet there's an even greater puppeteer and in the case of the Lorax there's three. Despite initially being slightly distracted by the talented operators, that quickly fades as the Lorax develops into a fully-fledged leading 'thing'.

It's truly remarkable that, whether you're a child or a reluctant adult, it doesn't take long to buy into the Lorax as a proper, fully paid-up Equity member and actor in his own right. Credit needs to be given to David Ricardo-Pearce who does a convincing job as the voice of the Lorax along with Laura Caldow and Ben Thompson who spends much of the play on his knees. Together, they give him a genuine, heart-warming personality and depth some of the human cast might rightly be jealous of.

Heart-warming and thought provoking, The Lorax will appeal to both parents and youngsters alike who are looking for something that's more than just a senseless collection of toe-tapping tunes with little to no story. Here, the characters are superbly developed, the story line is intelligent and digestible for older kids with and conscience and on the whole the show is on the right side of cheesy to make for a fabulous night on the town.

With preparations underway for its US transfer next year, my only criticism is that The Lorax won't be spreading his message for long enough here in London.

Reviewer: Thomas Magill

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