'The Lorax' or 'Let's have all the colours of the rainbow - but not orange!'
The Lorax, Dr Seuss – adapted by David Greig
Old Vic Theatre, 17th December 2015
There’s more wit, visual extravagance and downright care lavished on this joyful adaptation of ‘The Lorax’ than you’ll find in most adult shows. Kids really do have it lucky these days. David Greig’s adaptation is a tripping and cheeky joy, Fin Caldwell’s puppets an eccentric delight, Rob Howell’s wonderful wiggly set is like a stoner’s dream and Charlie Fink’s songs as bubbly and light as air. Director Max Webster has created an exuberantly quirky piece that hits home with its environmental message – but always with a charming twinkle in the eye.
The star of the show is of course The Lorax, who is controlled by three puppeteers but is a singular character in his own right. He looks like a cross between an orange, a grandpa and a beaver and has a great yellow moustache and spiky eyebrows, all used to maximum emotional effect. It takes a while for the Lorax to appear but – when he finally lumbers onto the stage – an excited murmur shoots through the crowd and doesn’t let up till the Lorax has taken his final, richly deserved bow (with special plaudits to Simon Lipkin, whose rich voice fleshes out this raggedy little creature).
This is a relatively thin story: a Once-ler (Simon Paisley Day) sets out to make his fortune and stumbles upon the Lorax’s magical valley, full of strange swans, waddling fish and swaying sparkly Truffula trees. The Once-ler is entranced by this magical new world (aren’t we all) but it isn’t long before he’s chopping down the Truffula trees in order to make his ‘Thneed’, a crappy but hugely popular scarf. Soon the whole valley has been wiped out in the pursuit of grubby, greedy profit.
This might’ve felt a bit pat but the environmental stuff isn’t pushed on us: we’re never told a lesson but instead shown one, as all the magical colour and mystery contained within the set is gradually torn away. The narrative has been pumped full of laughing gas by David Greig’s tirelessly inventive script, which is essentially an ode to the English language in all its nutty glory. The endless tumble of rhymes becomes a performance in itself, as the children wait – eagerly – for the next rhyme to land. Some of the rhymes are silly, some are smart and some are basically cheating (I’ve got some dust in my thorax…!) but they develop a life of their own and almost become an extra character – perhaps that of Dr Seuss, eyes glinting cheekily in the wings.
There are some sly winks out to the adults, too. When a TV crew visits The Once-Ler’s factory, we discover the machines are actually on Demonstration Mode. Take that Volkswagen! And when The Once-Ler launches a 2.0 version of his Thneed, the stage sort of vomits up a Eurovision nightmare, with green carpets, flashing lights, preening celebs and a whole heap of spangly, product-obsessed emptiness. There are moments, then, that’ll catch in your throat but this is mostly just a rhyme-infused, colour swept joy; An Old Vic delight, a wonderful NIGHT!