Reviewed by Flossie Waite
Kenny Wax Family Entertainment Ltd in association with Matthew Gregory
Running until September 10th
For ages 3+
What the Ladybird Heard is like a colourful summer pantomime: in amongst shouts of ‘It’s behind you!’, boos for the baddies, rousing songs, and a dance routine even the audience can join in with, nestles the story of the ladybird, based on the award-winning picturebook by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks.
What the Ladybird Heard is Lily’s (Emma Caroll) favourite book and no wonder – she lives on a farm just like the one found in its pages. In fact, the setting is so perfect that Lily, and the farmer (Rosamund Hine), and Eddy (Edward Way) – all dressed in plaid with West Country accents to underline their agricultural endeavours – decide to act out the story. Like a cross between a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie and an episode of Blue Peter, the three fly into action preparing for their show, rounding up an extra performer (a squeaky-voiced usher) and grabbing odds and ends from the farmyard to create the cast of characters. A sheep is cleverly crafted out of a wheelbarrow filled with old wool, a rugby ball and handlebars; there’s also a broom dog, a watering-can goose, and a duck with a basket of eggs for a body. All play a crucial part in recounting the time that two burglars tried to steal a prize cow from the farm, and a discreet red-and-black bug saved the day.
Of the almost hour-long experience, the slight central story takes up only a fraction of the time. There is so much preparation for the telling of Donaldson’s tale that it can feel like padding; some exchanges and song verses are repeated at least one too many times, not quite covering the sound of the source material being stretched almost to ripping point. Perhaps What the Ladybird Heard isn’t really ripe for theatrical interpretation in the same way that Donaldson’s other books, like The Paper Dolls, have been. Still, Graham Hubbard’s production is undeniably warm and energetic, fueled by truly catchy songs performed by a talented cast of actor-musicians and concluded with a final, joyous jig that will have audiences dancing out the doors.
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