Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox
Based on the novel by Roald Dahl, adaptation by Sam Holcroft, music by Arthur Darvill, lyrics by Sam Holcroft, Arthur Darvill, Al Muriel and Darren Clarke
Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox is the kind of family romp that normally brightens up the pre-Christmas period (which it did in Southampton) for children and their parents/grandparents.
It is the latest in what is becoming a long series of theatrical adaptations of Roald Dahl’s popular children’s novels, the most spectacularly realised of which was Matilda the Musical.
This co-production, which originated at the Nuffield in Southampton, has few pretensions beyond the desire to entertain young and old alike with a simple adventure featuring farm animals and scavengers, both human and from the wild.
The novel has been brought to the stage by adaptor Sam Holcroft and composer Arthur Darvill, with both contributing to the lyrics, under the stage direction of Maria Aberg. The musical mixture combines everything from disco and rock to what sound suspiciously like imitations of some of Kurt Weil’s compositions for Bertolt Brecht.
Greg Barnett is Mr Fox, a bouncy, genial character who likes showing off in a somewhat camp manner. Thanks to his ability to wrest food from the farms of the unpleasant trio of Bean, Boggis and Bunce, Fox has attained a status something close to stardom in his own little world. Indeed, Sandy Foster’s enthusiastic if far from bright Rabbit positively gushes every time he comes near.
As the farmers, led by Richard Atwill playing the particularly mean Bean, begin to close in on the Foxes, the foxy patriarch’s ingenuity and daring are called for and found wanting.
Despite the feisty marauder’s bravado, the loss of his long brush unsettles and unbalances him with potentially fatal consequences for all.
This is where the play’s moral begins to emerge as Fox tries to find food from farmyard to farmyard alone.
Following an initial failure, he seems to be on a roll after meeting a cider-swilling Rat but alcohol gets in the way of heroism. This allows pregnant Lillie Flynn playing Mrs Fox (Vixen?) to make a bid for feminist supremacy much to the embarrassment of her erstwhile master.
With a mixture of song and dance on Tom Scutt’s attractive multi-level farmyard set, the two-hour long evening moves towards an almost inevitably dramatic climax as the three farmers pit their wits against the whole farmyard.
This supplements the Foxes’ bravery with the meticulous planning of Badger played by Raphael Bushay, the wisdom of Gruffyd Glyn as Mole, Rabbit’s tenacity and feet, all aided by Kelly Jackson in the role of Mouse, plus a magical ingredient that will particularly appeal to younger members of the audience.
This is the technological canniness of Jade Croot’s Kit, a keen cub desperate to emulate her elders and eventually saving the day.
Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox is likely to appeal to youngsters and has just enough comedy and the odd double entendre to ensure that adults are happy enough to accompany them to the theatre.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher