Fantastic Mr Fox at the Lyric Hammersmith
Like Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory before it, the Lyric’s Fantastic Mr Fox is not just competing with the Roald Dahl original, but also a near-perfect cinematic incarnation (Wes Anderson’s foxy film may not be as well-known as those other adaptations, but it should be). This new version, written by Sam Holcroft with music and lyrics from Arthur Darvill, Al Muriel and Darren Clark, might not hit the heights of its stage and screen predecessors, but does it offer plenty of fast fun just ahead of half-term?
Though there are some quibbles with Tom Scutt’s set – the choice of a blue burrow is constantly jarring – everything, from the props to the various factories and cellars, has an appealing cartoonishness to it. This sense of animation extends to the outfits; each animal is aptly decked out in sports gear, from Fox’s family’s tracksuits to Rabbit’s Jane Fonda workout outfit and Badger’s bulging football kit.
In a show filled with vibrant performances, there is one clear standout: Richard Atwill, who pulls double duty as the vengeful Bean and the boozed-up Rat. He has a sneering, gradually unravelled uptightness as the former, elevating the farmer into the pantheon of Dahl’s greatest bad guys, before flipping into the tittering tipsiness of the latter during the second act. As for Mr Fox, Greg Barnett plays him like an irritating and arrogant coach, to the point where he almost feels like an antihero. And though this doesn’t quite come across as intentional, it does add an extra wrinkle to what could have been a one-note character.
If the overall message of the musical is an anodyne one about the benefits of teamwork, there are still some interesting ideas floating around the edges. Bean’s intolerance of greedy hoards who supposedly contribute nothing is redolent of Nigel Farage, while his farm-inheritance recalls a certain leader of the free world more orange than the musical’s titular creature. The standout song, the funky freak-out Feeling Foxy, even sees Bean explore the difficulties of finding one’s own personal identity. Elsewhere a sparky duet between the spousal Foxes probes perceptions about the home-bound role of the mother, Mr patronising Mrs about her ability to perform the daring tasks of her youth.
These flashes of thematic relevance, combined with Maria Aberg’s propulsive direction, mean there is plenty of reason for adults to get on board while their infants gobble up the slapstick silliness of Fox and his friends’ fantastic antics.
Fantastic Mr Fox is on at the Lyric Hammersmith from the 25th January to 19th February 2017. Book your tickets here.