Review: Fantastic Mr Fox at Cambridge Arts Theatre - a fascinating world of interesting animals

PUBLISHED: 07:17 10 May 2017

This stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox is a high-energy, full-length, two-hour show with elements of pantomime, musical and high drama.

It entertained a first-night audience of children all the way through and my nine-year-old companion when asked to rate it out of five - said: “Ten”.

It starts with charming harmonies sung by the birds, one of whom, shockingly, is then shot. The show goes on with farmers pulling the guts out of chickens. But that doesn’t seem to put off the young audience. They loved it.

It is a high octane performance throughout and the cast create living and rounded characters out of the animals they are playing: birds, rabbit, mouse, badger, rat and mole - and of course the family of foxes. (So all that walking round like cranes at drama school has come in handy then).

This is Dahl’s story of the battle between the animals and the farmers. The men have their guns, the animals have their wits. It takes more than a bullet to stop the creatures. It is the farmers who are red in tooth and claw and the animals who have the sensibilities. As Mr Fox says: “They are living on our land.”

Greg Barnett as Mr Fox is stupendous. A real leader of his kingdom - and charming. I could see him playing Henry V, particularly the scene where Henry woos Katherine.

Mrs Fox (Lillie Flynn) is pregnant and I suspended disbelief enough to worry about that, what with all the leaping about, but my young companion assured me it was only a cushion.

As the fox wife who rescues her husband from danger, Lillie Flynn is enchanting as she sings while doing a bit of athletics: “We have our flaws, we don’t choose them, they are a strength if you know how to use them.”

Quite right.

It’s a treat to see the versatile cast, singing, playing in the band and some playing two characters. Farmer Boggis, doubles up as Badger, Farmer Bunce as Mole, Farmer Bean as a wonderfully Hooray Henry Rat. Kelly Jackson is a lovely Mouse and Sandy Foster a darling rabbit.

If the show has a weakness, it is the lack of memorable tunes and a really odd set that must represent something but it was difficult to see what, but that is made up for by strong performances and good characterisation.

A fascinating world of interesting animals.

Fantastic Mr Fox is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 13.

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