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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Lorax
Old Vic Theatre  Autumn 2017

I am honour-bound to open by reporting that I saw The Lorax in an audience that was at least half children, generally of single-digit ages, and the fidget level was remarkably low. 

I'm not sure I can say the same of the adults, and this may be one of those 'family shows' that kids enjoy and parents endure. 

First seen at the Old Vic two years ago, David Greig's adaptation of Dr. Seuss's ecological fable returns for a three-week run in advance of a tour. 

Greig has successfully captured the sound of Seuss's infectious rhymes ('We don't make much money, just a few groats/And most of that goes to oats for the goats'). But neither he nor director Max Webster can sustain the essential air of whimsy. 

At their best, the performers are sprightly and energetic, but too often, particularly when the plot gets serious, their shared story-theatre narration lapses into spiritless recitation. 

Rob Howell's sets can be candy-coloured delights, but too much of the show is in shadows or on a bare stage. And even the title character, a kind of orange walrus on spindly legs (a three-foot-high doll expertly moved and voiced by three 'invisible' puppeteers), doesn't have much of a personality. 

Seuss's plot has an ambitious young man discover that the magical trees of an unspoiled forest can be used to make a popular product. 

Despite the objections of the Lorax, self-appointed protector of the forest and its inhabitants, he sets about cutting down the trees and building a city and smog-generating factory. 

Only when the last tree has been destroyed and the Lorax has departed in defeat does he realise the error of his ways. (There is, of course, a hint of hope and inspiration at the end.) 

In a misstep that dates back at least as far as Milton, the bad guy is far more alive, energetic and theatrically attractive than the hero. Actor Simon Paisley Day invests him with loose-limbed vitality and a hint of Panto villain broadness that are just more fun to watch than the puppet hero's glum tut-tutting. 

The show is punctuated by songs by Charlie Fink and choreography by Drew McOnie, and by far the most colourful and entertaining numbers are those in which the baddie celebrates his successes. 

Yet, as I said, the kids are held by this, so maybe they need less sugar-coating than the grown-ups to get the story's simple ecological message. 

The Lorax is less fun than the most modest Christmas Panto, but it has more to say. Dr. Seuss never underestimated his young readers, and perhaps neither should we.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Lorax - Old Vic Theatre 2017   

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