Thursday, September 25, 2014



By Julia Donaldson with Illustrations by Axel Scheffler.

Adapted by Tall Stories Theatre Company. Produced by CDP Theatre Producers

Directed by Olivia Jacobs. Associate Director Jane Miskovic.

Music and Lyrics by Jon Fiber and Olivia Jacobs with additional music and lyrics by Robin Fisher and Andy Shaw.

Designed by Isla Shaw. Lighting Design by James Whiteside

Tall Stories Theatre Company. Canberra Theatre. Canberra Theatre Centre. September 25 – 27 2014.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Graeme McRae as Gruffalo in Tall Stories Theatre Company's production of GRUFFALO
Beware what you imagine. It might just become real. The dark, dark woods can be a dangerous place for a tiny, weeny mouse. If you can’t live by your strength, then you may have to survive by your wits, and that is just what Mouse (Chandel Brandimarti) does by creating the big, bad monster Gruffalo (Graeme McRae). The wily fox, the ogling owl and the slithery snake ( all played with versatile vitality by Stephen Anderson) soon learn to their dismay that having the right friend can keep the predators away.

To Mouse’s surprise and to the wicked delight of hundreds of young schoolchildren, who, by their enthusiastic reactions,  it would appear, have read Julia Donaldson’s  story, adapted for the stage by Tall Stores Theatre Company , Gruffalo bursts into monstrous life, with an ominous taste for fried Mouse on a slice of bread.

In the face of such a perilous predicament, Mouse swiftly sizes up the situation and saves the day with a clever plan to scare the predators away, and discover the nuts that sets him on his quest through the dark and dangerous woods.
Graeme McRae as Narrator. Stephen Anderson as Fox, Chandel Brandimarti as Mouse. Photo by James Taggart
Tall Stories production of this popular tale is a delectable theatrical treat for young and old alike. Isla Shaw’s colourful touring design of cut out trees, unlike Axel Scheffler’s original illustrations, offers an Australian flavour to the setting, without losing the flavour of the story or its setting within the woods. The design is effective. Minimalist and effectively lit by James Whiteside, the setting allows the audience to focus on the characters, played with verve and physical slickness by the talented acting trio. Costume designs heighten the flavour of the story, played by actors upon the stage. A sprucely attired fox, a winged owl with an aviator’s cap and goggles and a matador gold-clad, maracas wielding  snake and a horned leafy costumed Gruffalo lift the story from the page into the vivid realm of a child’s imagination. It is here that the liberty of adaptation has been the preservation of the tale’s intent with added life and flair.  Olivia Jacobs has directed tightly with an expert eye for a young audience’s engagement, bewitching them with hilarious business, excitable possibilities to participate and the occasional in joke to keep the adult members of the audience entertained.  The theatre erupts with laughter as one narrator (Anderson) leaps into the arms of the other narrator (McRae). At Mouse’s urging the wide-eyed attentive kids roar to the upraised arm and fall silent to the finger upon the lips. Crowd control has been skilfully martialled to let the story clearly unfold. It is a joy to see the careful consideration of theatre for young children taking its well-executed   path. A less professional approach could easily lead to chaos, confusion and the loss of magic in a story that exalts the power of the imagination and the triumph of wit over

This production of Gruffalo is delightfully enhanced by some catchy, lyrical tunes composed and written by Jon Fiber and Olivia Jacobs with additional music and lyrics by Robin Fisher and Andy Shaw. I found my foot involuntarily jigging to Mouse’s  “Life is good in the Wood”, Fox’s wily “Let me be your guide”, Owl’s “How would you like to come up to my treetop house?” And the slippery Salsa rhythms of Snake’s Party Song. Even “What does a Gruffalo do?” lends a more wistful tone to the monster’s longing for more noble, heartfelt pursuits.

All in all this production has something for everyone. Adults may lend an amused groan to the puns as Gruffalo salivates at the thought of his favourite dishes Tiramouseoo, Mouseaka, and Bubble and Squeak while the young audience can squeal with  feigned fright as Gruffalo runs through the theatre.   A carefully colourful and creative adaptation of Donaldson and Scheffler’s Gruffalo fills the young audience with delight in a fifty minute performance, jam packed with entertainment and the unobtrusive moral to the tale. For holiday entertainment for the kids aged 4 and upwards, Gruffalo is a sure fire hit.
Crystal Hegedis. Tamyl Henderson. Stephen Anderson as Snake in a former touring performance of the CDP Theatre Production's presentation of Tall Stories Theatre Company's production of Gruffalo. Photographs by James Taggart


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