Review: The Gruffalo, Athenaeum Theatre

Isabelle Oderberg

The show is beautiful and there wasn’t a child there who didn’t seem to enjoy the performance.
Review: The Gruffalo, Athenaeum Theatre

The Gruffalo presented by CDP with Tall Stories.

Panic. That's what happens when you sit down to watch the Gruffalo at Melbourne's Athenaeum with a toddler who can recite every word of the book off by heart and you realise they've – gasp – taken liberties with the book.

Suffice to say, the show isn't a straight reading of the children’s classic. For starters, the characters are visibly human, with animalistic characteristics.

And there is preamble and some additional narration before we head into the meat and bones of the story.

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The mouse is played by Shannen Sarstedt, the Gruffalo and narrator is played by Kyle Kaczmarczyk and the predators – fox, snake and owl – and additional narrating features Hayden Baum.

The original wording of the book of course makes an appearance interspersed with the new narrative and some simple songs that have been created specifically for the purpose of singalong.

The fox, owl and snake provide lots of comic relief, though it would be remiss of me not to point out that the Spanish-style snake, which displayed quite a camp flair, felt a little derivative. But while all the predators were minimally threatening and provided a degree of comic relief in their own way, it was definitely the snake that seemed to get the mums and dads in the audience laughing the hardest.

There was also a good dose of audience participation, with my Mr 2.5 coming out of his shell to scream at the stage whenever instructed.

The theatre is the perfect size, with its relative smallness compared to some of the larger venues meaning the kids feel enveloped by the atmosphere and the stage settings, but it’s not so small that Mr 2.5 felt intimidated during some of the scarier moments.

The Gruffalo presented by CDP with Tall Stories.

But it should be noted that the suggested age range is 3 years old onwards, so parents with smaller kids would definitely be better placed to find seats slightly further back, or in the dress circle upstairs rather than the stalls, to avoid ‘stage fright’.

After the initial panic subsided and Mr 2.5 proceeded to recite the lines he knew but listen to the lines he didn’t, sing along with songs he didn’t know and engage with the characters when instructed (like roaring to scare Mr Fox away) the realisation dawned that any panic was sorely misplaced and I had really underestimated my kid’s ability to engage beautifully with the arts, including new artistic renderings of shows or songs he already knows.

The show is beautiful and there wasn’t a child there who didn’t seem to enjoy the performance – even kids nearby who were saying they were scared before kick-off were completely engaged and laughing once the action started.

As soon as the lights came on, Mr 2.5 asked if we could do it again, to much laughed from parents sitting near us.

We’ll be back for Gruffalo’s Child in December.

4 stars ★★★★
The Gruffalo

Presented by CDP with Tall Stories
Based on the award-winning picture book by Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler
Athenaeum Theatre
2-6 October 2018

The Gruffalo’s Child
Athenaeum Theatre
11-12 December 2018

 
What the stars mean?
  • Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
  • Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
  • Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
  • Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
  • Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
  • Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
  • Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
  • One star: Awful, to be avoided
  • Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level

About the author

A veteran journalist, Isabelle Oderberg is a comedy fanatic and has been reviewing comedy for six years. She also reviews restaurants, opera and theatre.