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BWW Review: ROALD DAHL'S FANTASTIC MR FOX, Lyric Hammersmith

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The novels of Roald Dahl remain a rich seam to be mined for unforgettable characters and plots with enough edge for 21st-century kids (and their 20th-century parents) to enjoy. This new stage adaptation by Sam Holcroft of his 1970 story, Fantastic Mr Fox, was the Christmas show at Southampton Nuffield Theatre and is set to tour the UK before going to ground in July. Dahl remains the er... darling of us Brits.

Focused for the stage, it comes in at a punchy two hours and, if the first half was a little slow and the second a little preachy, nobody was complaining about a rollicking good show packed with decent (and some very decent) songs and laughs appealing, like a strong panto, to five- and 85-year-olds alike. And if the ending is a little glib (though it retains Dahl's killer last line), perhaps we need a few more "Happy Ever Afters" before next Christmas rolls round.

Director Maria Aberg has assembled an energetic and talented cast of eight who, with a bit of doubling, fill the large stage (beautifully designed by Tom Scutt, with a nod or two to Mr Wonka's factory) and keep things bubbling nicely, the pace picking up as our heroes outwit the baddies through understanding their own individual strengths and weaknesses and combining as a team. Along the way, Mr Fox learns to park his ego and work with his friends.

Greg Barnett is all strut and swagger as the eponymous hero, until his tail is shot off by his nemesis, Farmer Bean (Freudians should look away). Amongst his buddies, Sandy Foster's Rabbit (an ADHD bunny who annoyed my 16 year-old son, but delighted plenty of the younger kids) stands out, delivering a very funny short scene packed with double entendres that were pitched just about right.

Richard Atwill's turns as two villains, Bean and Rat, are both excellent, Atwill's speaking and singing voices suited ideally to the roles. (Indeed, the clarity of voices and tightness of the band, under musical director Richie Hart, is a delight - it's an oft-neglected, but critical, aspect of any successful show of this type).

Though some of us might groan at yet more wholesome, anthropomorphic animals offered up for our pleasure, there's enough of Dahl's signature dark humour embedded in the production to avoid an overly determined, saccharine sweet triumph of good over evil. And, even if the plot's journey to Mr Fox's land of milk and honey can occasionally drag, the songs, particularly in the second half, lift the show at exactly the right times.

So, as with all the best family entertainment, there really is something for everyone.

Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox is at the Lyric Hammersmith until 19 February and subsequently on tour.


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