Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax denies us the happy ending we expect from a production led by an orange puppet with a grossly oversized moustache – and rightly so.
From his rickety tower hidden in the shadows, the menacing Once-Ler man tells the story of how The Lorax got lifted away. As a youngster, The Once-Ler was a vivacious dreamer keen to escape from his small-town life. After being booted out of his home, he journeys to find a million-dollar idea. The Once-Ler stumbles across a tufty Truffula Tree yielding tassels that can be knitted into a product and, although quite useless, there is a demand for it. In the words of The Lorax, “You never can tell what some people will buy.” The Once-Ler begins to market his invention, which he names a ‘thneed’, much to the fury of The Lorax who speaks for the trees. In sharp contrast to the jolly Seussian rhyming verse through which it is told, what follows is the gradual destruction of the world that The Lorax and The Once-Ler inhabit.
What gives David Greig’s adaptation of the text an edge is his efforts to humanise The Once-Ler. Brought to life by the impeccable Simon Paisley Day, who you may recognise from ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Sherlock’, this character is someone who you can see in your friends, your family and yourself. The Once-Ler, fashioned in green hues synonymous with greed and money, is one of the many victims of a world that feeds on consumerism. Far removed from the faceless man of the original Dr. Seuss animation, he makes The Old Vic’s production that bit more poignant by not being simply a pantomime villain.
Rob Howell’s design keeps your eyes fixed to the stage throughout Greig’s fiercely didactic adaptation. As the Once-Ler’s business grows so, hilariously, do his desk and chair. Bigger still is the intimidating Super-Axe-Hacker that chops down the Truffula Trees at an unprecedented pace. Even the scene changes themselves are hypnotic; the trees grow downwards from the sky in a miraculous fashion. As for the puppetry, David Ricardo-Pearce does a brilliant job as the voice of environmentalism, manoeuvring The Lorax along with Laura Caldow and Ben Thompson. The creature leaps, climbs and flies, he even delicately taps his feet as his droopy moustache twitches in agitation.
There are more personalities than just The Lorax and The Once-Ler that burst forth from this production. Small Ed (Michael Ajao), entertains the audience during the interval as a stand-up comic with a twist – he rhymes. Well, until it comes to the word orange that is… Wendy Mae Brown, Kirsty Malpass and Kerri Norville are three savvy lawyers who quickly reveal themselves to be magnificent singers as well, performing a tune by Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale in the style of The Supremes. Fink’s songs mingle as slickly with Dr. Seuss’s words as Greig’s additions to the text. From hard rock to electro-pop, the music propels the production’s message forward, uplifting the audience and arousing their sympathies when needed.
Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax is indisputably a critique of the ruin that we are wreaking on our environment. We shouldn’t expect, nor do we deserve, a happy ending. With the mention of ‘fake news’, parallels are drawn between Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and The Once-Ler’s disregard for the smog created by his factories. The sight of the malnourished Brown Bar-ba-loots exploited for selfies and the comparison between a ‘thneed’ and a snood – a perfectly useless garment in my opinion – point fingers at those sat in the auditorium. You do have to question the effect that this production will have on the children watching. It is an upsetting piece that may perturb some parents. But, the harsh reality is that these children are upset by the future they are facing. The question is: what can you do to stop it?
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