Axel Scheffler’s illustrations are a little like the Scamp Theatre productions of his works. In Scamp’s interpretations of Stick Man and Scarecrow’s Wedding, currently at Leicester Square Theatre in London, there’s a lot of complex thought, planning and design that goes into the shows. But they are easy to watch: just like a clever, deep novel that’s so easy to read you can whizz through it in one evening. Scheffler’s drawings latch themselves into your minds – who could forget the bulbous, toothy Gruffalo or the gnarled, warty witch of Room on the Broom – but when you meet them, it’s with the simple familiarity of an old friend.
Scarecrow’s Wedding begins with Darren Clark’s rousing folk music, played and sung by the cast: Matthew Hamper (Harry O’Hay), Lucy Wells (Betty O’Barley) and Michael Palmer (the Farmer and Reginald Rake). Two scarecrows, Harry and Betty, fall in love; but when Harry goes away to find the wedding essentials (“a dress of white flowers, a necklace of shells; lots of pink flowers, two rings and some bells”) the Farmer replaces him with the devilish Reginald Rake. Reginald tries to steal Betty’s affections, but then slips up by accidentally setting her on fire. She’s rescued by her true love, Harry.
There is no real peril involved, and the audience was full of very young children; although it’s aimed at children aged 3+, there were plenty of babes-in-arms in the auditorium. Our six year-old enjoyed it, too. James Button’s design peppered the show with wacky little touches that appealed to his humour. Cowbells were strung across the stage, each one representing a cow. An armchair turned into Reginald Rake’s sports car. And a toad bounced around the stage on a giant green space hopper.
Scamp Theatre’s rendition of The Scarecrow’s Wedding is a keeper. Like Stick Man, which our family has been to see four times, Scarecrow’s Wedding is a show that you could return to and enjoy just as much the second time round. And this time, we experienced Axel Scheffler’s warm humour first-hand: “Oh dear. I should probably have presented you with my other side,” he said as he squeezed, crotch-forwards, past our little gang of four- and six-year olds. Sheffler, who lives in south London, had come along with his family to watch the show, and to sign copies of his book afterwards. It was a rare treat.
The Scarecrow’s Wedding is at Leicester Square Theatre until Sunday 4 September. Tickets are £19.50 for adults, and £14.50 for children.
We were invited to the press performance of Scarecrow’s Wedding for the purpose of this review. All views are my own.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.