Julia Donaldson's children's book The Gruffalo is a family favourite, and its stage adaptation is no different. With some help from her husband, sister and friends, Donaldson presents her most-loved tales at the Udderbelly in a show that celebrates the magic of reading storybooks.
Unlike other shows, which may opt to use fancy effects or big technical illusions, this show focuses on simple stage magic and puppetry to create the array of characters (mainly animal) from Donaldson's stories. The cat, dog, bird and frog from Room on the Broom are puppets handled by the cast, and in a delightfully silly song about The Ugly Five, the cast wear animal hats and masks, snorting, ribbeting, and flying right up to the children in the front row. There's even some projection as the Magic Paintbrush draws a dragon. The children are transfixed, singing along to the Superworm song, and crying in anarchy when Donaldson cheekily pretends the show is finished before the Gruffalo has made an appearance.
The small stage is made to look like two books; a lovely touch for a show which centres on the stories many families have read together. Tables and even a new broom for a witch pop out from it, leading to gasps of awe from the audience.
"There is magic in a storybook," the presenters sing at the start of the show – and they're certainly not wrong.