Picture this. Two middle-aged men in the stalls of the Arts Theatre surrounded by nippers and their charges at one o’clock of a Sunday afternoon. It all sounds so horribly wrong doesn’t it? We felt horribly self-conscious. The disguise of straw wigs, track suits and cigars probably didn’t help. Nor did Phil’s throwaway comment that the Whingers had come to Sueussical seeking their inner children.
Anyway, although we knew that Lynn Ahren’s and Stephen Flaherty‘s 2000 Broadway musical wouldn’t really be aimed at us. we didn’t realise we would be seeing the “Theatre for Young Audiences Version” which contains significant changes to the Broadway version including the removal what Wikipedia tantalisingly refers to as “the entire military subplot”.
Anyway, having now looked at the label carefully we shall try and re-examine the contents of the tin with that in mind.
What it is is a lively, playful and rather complex amalgam of Dr Seuss’ stories from The Cat in the Hat (Joe Morrow) to Horton Hears a Who! but if we were ever familiar with the stories we have of course long since forgotten them.
Superstar semi-finalist David Hunter‘s nicely sympathetic Horton the elephant (it took us a while to establish he was an elephant because he had no trunk but we’re sure the kiddy-winkies were way ahead) discovers a small world that is out of control in the universe floating on a speck of dust. No one can accuse this show of being patronising to children with its introduction to quantum physics or something; Seussical is Play Away by way of Constellations.
The Sell A Door Theatre Company fills the stage and the players throw themselves into the proceedings with the requisite relentless perkiness presumably favoured by tots. We did appreciate their boundless enthusiasm and energy if not their – rather unexpected and unnecessary – American accents. Who knows where where any of the cast could be heading? Even Jeremy Irons honed his talents entertaining children.*
The songs have a Broadwayish sound covering a range of styles from Latin to pop and jazz. Unfortunately the music is annoyingly and tinnily pre-recorded and the miking often poor, rendering some of the jaunty lyrics unintelligible. The Whingers surprised themselves over a post-show plate of pasta finding themselves still humming one of the more insidious tunes.
“Who has the instructions on how to raise children?” asks the Mayor (Philip Scutt). Clearly the parents who brought their children to this performance. In fact the children were better behaved than the adults and better behaved than audiences at several other West End shows we could mention. We can only assume they were enthralled, which is quite something as there are A LOT of words to listen to within the songs and between them. But no doubt youngsters have much better hearing than we.
And should anyone still believe there is need to justify the existence of Jimmy Krankie there’s an equality message about not judging small people.
*For those of you who have never seen it here is the Academy Award-winner in Play Away and a very tight shirt.