Stage adaptations of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s hugely popular children’s books are so ubiquitous these days that they should probably be categorised as their own sub-genre of theatre.
The common thread that runs through many of them, however, is the challenge of padding out what are pretty minimalist storylines into something that passes for a show substantial enough to merit a viable ticket price. In this version of Tabby McTat, Brighton-based Freckle Productions have opted for a fourth wall-busting, multi-genre musical as their chosen means of filling time around the scant tale of a busker’s cat who shacks up with house cat Sock but pines for his guitar-wielding human pal Fred.
The result is something with a bit more theatrical heft, if slightly fewer easy audience wins (puppets for example) than other Donaldson-Scheffler stage outings. True, the smiley four-strong cast in their brightly-coloured t-shirts and converse hi-tops looked a bit like some kind of numerically-depleted S Club 7. Admittedly, an over-long section involving magic tricks had younger punters squirming in their seats a bit, and the role-swapping device of different hats to represent different characters, at the expense of full-blown costumes, meant that a trick was missed in terms of spectacular feline attire.
Yet Luke Rees Oliviere was an energetic MC as Samuel Spratt, McTat’s tone-deaf son, and there was plenty of cheerful clapping and singing along from the audience as a result. There was a full-blown ballad about Tabby’s loneliness, which had one of my daughters looking genuinely sad, while an imagined brass band parade had her laughing out loud, as did (inevitably) a line in a song sung by doctors fixing Fred’s broken leg that promised to fix his knee and take him for a wee. Spratt ‘the street cat’ even did an enjoyably tame bit of rapping. All in all, the creative team behind this hour-long production have done an admirable job with material that is at once much-loved and little to go on. As a warm and engaging introduction to theatre for small people, you could do a whole lot worse.