Dr Seuss’s The Lorax

Old Vic Theatre, London (*****)

© Manuel Harlan

© Manuel Harlan

Some shows just hit the ground running and never falter. Four years ago, Max Webster brought a remarkable production of Helen Edmundson’s Anna Karenina to the Arcola with graduates from Birmingham’s School of Acting (see Reviewsgate review). Clearly, we said, he was a name to watch. Well, others evidently took note and here he is at the Old Vic with a list of impressive credits to his name. And now in this first ever stage adaptation of Dr Seuss’s The Lorax, he’s delivered a corker of a Christmas show, for all that its message is a dark one.

As planet Earth plunges irrevocably towards environmental disaster, Dr Seuss’s prescient, much loved children’s book, published in 1971, foretold the dangers of deforestation, warning of its consequences through his creation of the wonderful, beaver-like creature, the Lorax, who spoke `for trees’ and other natural beasties who couldn’t speak up for themselves: birds, fish, bears, etc.

© Manuel Harlan

© Manuel Harlan

Together with the prolific David Greig and a terrifically talented team (sadly, all male – strange in this day and age), Webster’s production brings the book thrillingly to life through Finn Caldwell’s brilliantly imagined puppets, Drew McOnie’s speedy choreography and a score by Charlie Fink that doffs its hat to West End musicals but not too reverently.

Slick, witty and endlessly inventive, Webster manages the difficult task of appealing both to young (6 and upwards) and older alike. For Caldwell’s chunky Lorax, with his handlebar moustache is a prophet to treasure: endearing, feisty, brave and poignant.

© Manuel Harlan

© Manuel Harlan

Greig’s excellent adaptation (as witty as it is faithful to Seuss’s original madcap invented rhyming language) finely balances conservation and environmental arguments against the human desire for `biggering’ and over-consumption, encapsulated in the lively figure of Simon Paisley Day’s Once-ler, the young man who makes his fortune through a knitting product, the Thneed which requires constant cutting down of the Truffula tree for its existence.

Supported by a terrific, as ever selflessly brimming ensemble, the Lorax’s message, whilst bringing a tear to the eye in its charting of a paradise lost, is nonetheless hopeful. The seed that needs to be sown is born right here in this inspirational production.

© Manuel Harlan

© Manuel Harlan

A hit, a palpable hit and timely, beyond words.

Dr Seuss’s The Lorax runs at the Old Vic Theatre to Jan 16, 2016

Review first published in Reviewsgate Dec 2015, and slightly amended here.

Ensemble: Stuart Angell
Ensemble: Thomas Arnold
Ensemble: Miles Barrow
Ensemble: Jack Beale
The Lorax: (puppeteer): Laura Cubitt
Ensemble: Caleb Frederick
Donkey: Emily Houghton
Ensemble: Richard Katz
Ensemble: Anabel Kutay
Ensemble: Melanie La Barrie
Ensemble: Penny Layden
The Lorax (voice & puppeteer): Simon Lipkin
Ensemble: Carly Mercedes Dyer
Ensemble: Ebony Molina
The Once-ler: Simon Paisley Day
Ensemble: Juma Sharkah
The Lorax (puppeteer): Ben Thompson
Ensemble: Silas Wyatt-Barke

Musicians: Joe Evans, Jo Nichols

Director: Max Webster
Designer: Rob Howell
Choreographer: Drew McOnie
Puppetry: Finn Caldwell for Gyre & Gimble
Lighting: Jon Clark
Music & Lyrics: Charlie Fink
Musical Director/Arranger: Phil Bateman
Sound: Tom Gibbons
Casting: Jessica Ronane CDG
Associate Director: Eduard Lewis

World premiere of Dr Seuss’s The Lorax at the Old Vic Theatre, London, Dec 4.