The Three Billy Goats Gruff
Music by George Stiles, book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe
Unicorn Theatre (Weston Theatre)
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This lively musical, originally commissioned by Singapore Repertory Theatre, where it premièred in 2015, is based on a Norwegian fairytale collected by Hans Anderson. It is the tale of three hungry goats who have nothing to eat because there has been no rain and the grass in their fields has dried up. On the other side of the valley, things look lush and green but to get there they have to cross a bridge that’s the terrain of a formidable troll who makes a meal of passing travellers with goats his favourite food.
In this version, they are Big Goat (Sam Pay), he’s the one with the biggest butt, Middle Goat (Samuel Tracy), who is the sprightliest dancer, and bouncy little Baby Goat (Kanoumah Diguet), who belong to Mr Bo (Rhys Rusbatch). He has put his daughter Little Bo-Frilly (Tiajna Amayo) in charge as their goatherd. She is the sister of Little Bo-Peep and, like her, tends to lose things, especially goats who like playing hide and seek. It doesn’t take much for the goats to convince Bo-Frilly that they should try to cross to the other side of the valley, but how will they get past the Troll?
The big-bellied Troll (Rhys Rusbatch doubling) is on stage pre-play-proper, making a rapport with the audience who help correct his spelling as he labels scenery “The Green Side”. He’s more friendly than frightening: that will come later, and he scuttles off to his Troll Hole before the music begins and the overture gets the play going.
While joining the Silly Billies on their adventure, we also see Troll painting things green on the other side of the valley and inside his Troll Hole are shown some of his relatives who have been turned to stone, clues for the audience who now know things before the goats do, but the final solution to their problems is fortuitously more natural.
It is a very simple storyline and much of its 55-minute playing time is filled with song and dance as the characters express themselves through forcefully sung, tuneful numbers and Shanelle “Tali” Fergus’s energetic choreography. They tell us just how hungry herbivorous ruminants with four stomaches can be; repeatedly remind us that it is always greener on the other side of the fence or, in Troll’s case, tell us how much he enjoys eating goat. The young audience clearly loved it when given the opportunity for some hand-clapping, air-punching involvement.
James Button’s colourful design, Justin Audibert’s fluid production and the energy of the performers make this a real delight. It targets an audience aged 3–7 years, but some of those I saw it with looked older and they enjoyed it just as much, along with the accompanying adults. This is a production that ticks all the right boxes; it deserves to be packed out.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton