Thursday, 23 August 2012

Theatre Review: 24 August

For those looking for the perfect family treat, try this glorious spread

Written by Sam Taylor


Anthropomorphised animals are the standard stuff of children's entertainment. Why else would Walt Disney have made so much money and accrued so many fans? In fact, who of us does not imagine that our own pets are telling us something, if not actually speaking to us?

In 1968, when Judith Kerr first wrote The Tiger Who Came To Tea, the book was an immediate hit; the surreal tale of a large tiger arriving unannounced for tea with a little girl called Sophie and her mother seemed eminently possible in that hippy era. The story is so captivating that no one ever really questions why the tiger chooses to eat all the buns rather than the tasty little humans on the other side of the Formica table.

It remains one of the bestselling books of all time and the decision to dramatise it was a genius idea. David Wood has delivered a classic production that at 55 minutes long is bite-sized enough for the adults and main meal enough for the little ones. For many, my own four-year-old included, it was their first trip to the theatre and it has set the bar extremely high.

As with all book-to-stage adaptations, there were bound to be problems, but Wood has elegantly solved them. The glorious, huge, soft-pawed tiger mimes rather than speaks– enthusiastically played by Alan Atkins. He eats and drinks everything he is offered – quite a spread – before drinking all the water out of the tap, leaving Sophie with no bath water. For anyone who has ever met a small child, a dream situation.

For those with an aversion to audience participation, I would suggest deep breaths before entering the auditorium. Counting out the passing hours between meals on the kitchen clock with Sophie (Abbey Norman) and her mother (Jenanne Redman) or singing a song about yummy sausages might not sound your cup of tea, but it is difficult to resist the enthusiasm of the cast.

As fans will know, the dénouement of the story is the arrival back home of Sophie's hungry Daddy (also played by Atkins) only to hear that his wife has fed all the week's shopping to a clearly absent tiger. Many a husband might have accused the poor woman of having been at the sherry, but instead he builds them a car out of the kitchen furniture and whisks them all off to a café for spaghetti hoops and sausages. The perfect tea for adults and children alike.

Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1, until 2 September: 020-7492 1561, lyrictheatrelondon.co.uk

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