By Flossie Waite
Little Angel Theatre
September 13th – November 9th 2014
Fantastic Mr Fox is not only an ingenious planner, but a caring father. “Have you been to the toilet Rusty?” he asks the cub before they embark on the next step of their cunning plan to outwit farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean. “Have you been to the toilet Scarlett? Have you been to the toilet Ginger?” he asks his children, before turning to the audience: “Have you been to the toilet? You’d better hurry up, you’ve got 15 minutes!” Thus begins the interval of a production which is at it’s best when including the audience in the action – but doesn’t do this quite enough.
The action begins noisily, thrusting us straight into the heart of a dispute in the English countryside. Farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean are tired of the crafty creature who steals livestock from their farms, and join forces to catch and kill him. They may have guns, mechanical diggers and the patience to starve him out, but can anyone outfox the Fantastic Mr Fox?
Steve Tiplady has created a frank production that pushes expectations. Peter O’Rourke’s textured and layered set is able to conceal the puppeteers but there is no real attempt to, and as the performance goes on it is taken apart and reassembled in front of our eyes. Not only is the audience aware of the puppeteers, but the puppets are aware of them too, having to be dragged on stage and complaining mightily at their handling. By the second half, the audience become part of it all, with larger versions of the puppets roaming through the auditorium, sitting on knees and sniffing faces. This is when the play comes alive. Until that point, the production is good but the wordy exchanges between the farmers are slightly too long, and the small versions of the puppets seem removed, unable to capture the personality of Dahl’s text.
That said, there is no attempt to downplay Dahl’s deliciously dark sense of humour; it would be hard to avoid in a play about murderous men and a thieving protagonist. But it’s not all thoughtless depravity. The moral heart of the play, Badger, has a strong preference for cider, but stays sober enough to remind Mr Fox that “a chap’s stuff is a chap’s stuff”. “But he’s got too much stuff, and we’ve got none, and he’s trying to kill us,” reason Mr. Fox and his children. Fair play.
Ben Glasstone provides some good songs – an amazing rap about food, a funk wah guitar tune about Bogus’s Chicken House Number 1 – and it’s great when the production lets loose a little bit. By the end you’re so cosy with Fox and the gang you’ll want to stay for dinner, but it just takes quite a while to warm up.
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