There's already been a Broadway musical based on Dr Seuss's fantastical stories that was called Seussical, which has been seen at London's Arts Theatre in a truncated schools' edition. But now the Old Vic, in its first Christmas under artistic director Matthew Warchus, has created a brand-new play with original new music based on Dr Seuss's The Lorax that's even better. It invites us into a strange alternative universe, full of Tuffula trees that sprout beautiful fringes, and creatures like The Lorax who protects them.
But then The Once-ler arrives — a character who is trying to find a way to make his fortune in the world, when his family decide its time for him to leave home. He's a chancer and, given some knitting needles, cuts down one of the trees and uses the fringe to make something he calls a 'thneed'. When these suddenly take off and demand outstrips supply, he starts cutting down more and more trees — against the undertaking he made to the Lorax — until the forest is completely destroyed.
The show is an allegory about environmental change and the damage humans can do to it. In a programme note, adaptor David Greig says, "The last thing you want to do in a Christmas show is preach — you want to be joyful", and he has succeeded beautifully in making a delightful entertainment that also has a serious message about our place in the world and our (lack of) respect for other creatures who share it with us.
Max Webster's vivid, colourful production is full of low-tech wonders — unlike Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which Greig coincidentally also adapted, there are no big effects, even if there's also a factory (here making thneeds, not chocolate) and the Lorax finds himself swallowed, as one of the children in Charlie is, by a machine, too and spat out on the other side.
The show may be intended to leave a slightly bitter taste about environmental damage, but it is also full of tasty delights, too — not least the stunning way the Lorax is brought to the stage in a puppet that is manipulated by three actors simultaneously. He's a more crudely achieved version of one of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Oompa-Loompas, but where you are always aware of the people pulling the strings to animate him, and especially Simon Lipkin who voices him so delightfully (and adds to his personal catalogue of puppet performance that has stretched from the original London casts of Avenue Q and the short-lived I Can't Sing!, in which he played a dog, to a fringe As You Like It).
The show duly achieves a miracle of its own: it manages to completely silence a rowdy matinee crowd of school parties and even younger kids, while simultaneously keeping the adults enthralled, too.
"In its mixture of verbal wit and social purpose, this is the best family show since Matilda."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
" overall I’d say it’s “waste-neutral” – it doesn’t squander vast resources, but doesn’t add much to the sum of things either."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"It’s too odd and complex for younger children and not sufficiently three-dimensional for adults."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard