Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s books have been staged before. The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom and Stick Man all lent themselves particularly well to adaptations featuring jaunty songs. But there are many more well-loved stories by the duo. Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales is an attempt to bring four of these together into one performance.
As well as Tiddler, this show at London’s Leicester Square Theatre (where we also saw Stick Man, by the same company, Scamp Theatre) includes Monkey Puzzle, The Smartest Giant in Town and A Squash and A Squeeze. The performance begins and ends with Monkey, which involves an ape losing its mother, then being reunited with the help of other jungle animals. The Smartest Giant in Town features a giant who gives away his clothes; A Squash and A Squeeze depicts a woman who ends up living with all her animals, and Tiddler….well, not having read the book, I’m still not quite sure what Tiddler is about. In this production by Sally Cookson, movement from one story to another is signalled through swift, onstage costume changes and prop re-arrangements. This sounds as though it could be confusing, and it is, a little. But, for the intended age group, it works well. In fact, it was the first performance my three-year-old daughter has sat through from beginning to end, without badgering me for snacks, pulling my hair, or complaining that she’s tired.
Perky acting by Joe Carey, Darren Seed and Maxwell James helped keep the energy levels high. Their musical skills, which include saxophone, clarinet and accordion-playing, and the clever lighting (this is used to brilliant effect in Tiddler, where hand-held fish and shark puppets cast eerie shadows on the back of the stage), meant there was always something attention-grabbing on stage. Not to mention the imaginative use of props. A huge wooden stepladder, with an actor in a smock perched on top, became the giant; a couple of bin bags were flappy elephant ears. None of the songs were quite as memorable as the ‘Stick Man’ refrain (which still buzzes round my head to this day), but Benji Bower’s score was bouncy and full of fun.
It was all perfectly silly, which is just as it should be. My daughter’s utter enthusiasm for this production goes to show that what might seem a little bewildering to adults – namely, high-octane darting around from story to story – works very well for pre-schoolers. We could have sat through and enjoyed at least another 15 minutes of the performance – Gwen because of all the bouncy fun; me because it was a blessing not to have a little person tugging on my hair, for a change.
Tiddler and Other Terrific Tales, by Scamp Theatre, is at London’s Leicester Square Theatre until 31 August. It is suitable for children aged 3 and over; tickets cost £19.50 for adults, and £14.50 for children. We were given an adult and a child ticket for the purpose of this review.
Don’t forget to check out our guide to the best theatres for kids in London.