“Silly old Fox! Doesn’t he know,
There’s no such thing as a gruffalo?”
Anyone who’s so much as walked past a bookshop in the company of a child is probably aware that The Gruffalo is a book by Julia Donaldson, aimed at three to seven year olds. Oi! You. Don’t walk away yet. I know the chances of you being aged three to seven are very very slim, but let’s not forget that this is a Grown-Ups Should Try review. Sit down and listen. Well, read.
Right. Where was I before you tried to make a run for it? Ah, yes. The book is aimed at young children, and since its release in 1999 its popularity has exploded. The story is of a mouse’s journey through the woods, and the way the mouse protects itself from the various dangers along the way using sheer cunning. Unusually for a children’s story, there is no moral value attached to honesty; the mouse’s success comes from its quick thinking and willingness to lie to protect itself.
As the mouse passes through the woods, it runs into a series of creatures bigger and scarier than itself – a fox, an owl and a snake – and each invites the mouse back for tea, with the obvious ulterior motive. The mouse, however, is not such a fool, and declines their offers.
“It’s frightfully nice of you, Owl, but no –
I’m having tea with a gruffalo!”
The mouse describes a terrible monster, conveniently due to meet the mouse for a meal exactly where they are at that minute… and his favourite food is the creature currently threatening the mouse. Of course, those poor terrified creatures flee, and the mouse goes on its way, smug at having outwitted its enemies. Fancy being so scared of a beast the mouse just made up!
Of course, that’s all well and good until the mouse runs into yet another creature in the forest – one that’s never been seen before…
He has knobbly knees and turned-out toes,
And a poisonous wart at the end of his nose.
His eyes are orange, his tongue is black,
He has purple prickles all over his back.
…and of course, like everything else in the forest, this strange beast likes the sound of mouse for dinner. How will the mouse escape? Well, you’ll have to find out for yourself.
The book is a thing of beauty, Donaldson’s rhyming couplets accompanied by Axel Scheffler’s beautiful illustrations. But it’s not the book I want to focus on right now. Not being a three to seven year old, I’m sure you’d enjoy the book for a few minutes at most; it’s a quick read. There’s also a film, which I’ll admit I haven’t seen. What I have seen, however, is the musical stage production by Tall Stories theatre company.
Now, I’m going to level with you here: the first time I watched this show – and yes, I’ve watched it more than once despite my advanced years – it was on DVD, in my room, at about four o’clock in the morning. This is not advised if there are other people in your house attempting to sleep. I was howling with laughter. My family were less than impressed.
While staying true to the spirit and, in many cases, the exact wording of the book, this production builds on it to add new layers of comedy – some even aimed a little over the children’s heads for the adults in the audience. You’ll meet the fox, reminiscent of Only Fools and Horses’ Del-Boy at times, the RAF owl, and the party-mad snake – more dangerous yet lovable characters you are never likely to meet. Actually, that’s not quite true. After all, you’re due to have tea with a gruffalo…
Each character has at least one song, and they’re all incredibly catchy, with plenty of scope for audience participation in each. By the time Snake asked the audience to join his dance, I had decided that I would take part too – before realising I was already dancing along. This show works, ladies and gentlemen.
If you’re not used to children’s theatre, it might take a little while to get into the acting style – it’s less built on subtlety than acting for older audiences, for obvious reasons – but while you’re waiting for it to click into place you can always admire the scenery, costumes and execution of the three-man show, which is carried off with great flair.
All in all, if you don’t want to be caught reading a picture book, or want to enjoy The Gruffalo for 45 full minutes, this is the way to do it. The official trailer (below) doesn’t even begin to capture how much fun the whole experience is. So go on! Indulge your inner child a little. You deserve it.
Eleanor Musgrove (appears to have developed a habit of starting reviews with quotes from mice)