Pleasance, London N7
Opened 18 December, 2004

It's not a promising beginning. Tall Stories' three performers enter in khaki T-shirts and skatepunk mid-calf-length pants, like a detachment from the Storytelling Marines. My doubts persist for maybe a third of the fifty-minute show, after which even a stick-in-the-mud like me has to admit that they very much know what they're doing.

Tall Stories' adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler's illustrated storybook has been around for a few years now, so this is hardly surprising. As they tell the tale of a clever mouse outwitting a series of predators in the deep, dark wood, director Olivia Jacobs and her cast know how to flow seamlessly from storytelling to role-play and how to connect with several dozen raucous tinies. (The show is for children aged 3+.) At First Tom Warwick (playing variously a tweedy fox, an RAF owl and a mariachi snake) seems a bit on the peremptory side, holding up his hand to try and get some quiet, but it's crucial that nothing is ever done in such a way as to suggest to the kids that they're doing wrong. For what can be wrong about engaging so enthusiastically with a story? That's the point of the show, after all. And when it becomes clear that a couple of seconds' lull is the best they can hope for, they work the shouting and chanted recitations into the piece... for this is an audience of young cognoscenti, who know both the plot and the words.

Alice Parsloe's Mouse, in fingerless gloves and a long belt tail, is a friendly protagonist who can be identified with. Even in the early stages when he's basically a storyteller without portfolio, the slightly gangling Felix Hayes seems to be the most suited of the three to pratting about; when he appears as the eponymous Gruffalo, though, in a shaggy suit made of hundreds of tiny swatches of rug (which must be hell to wear on summer tours), he really comes into his own, lumbering, roaring and grinning fit to bust. The songs, arranged in that jaunty-poppy style characteristic of British children's TV since the days of Pinky & Perky, are a mixed bag, but all get the job done (and it's nice to see the Fox getting a Madness-style nutty stomp).

Pleasance London, a single Tube stop from King's Cross, has always felt much further out in the wilderness than it actually is. This could be a fine opportunity for those with young children to discover it.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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