wed 13/12/2017

Dr Seuss's The Lorax, Old Vic | reviews, news & interviews

Dr Seuss's The Lorax, Old Vic

Dr Seuss's The Lorax, Old Vic

Eco-friendly holiday show is alternately fun and wearisome

Once-ler is not enough: Simon Paisley Day (left) and Simon Lipkin (right) in 'The Lorax'Bill Knight for theartsdesk

You'll feel guilty for having bothered with a programme after seeing The Lorax, the Dr Seuss adaptation that puts saving the environment centre-stage at the Old Vic just as the recent climate change gathering in Paris has done on the world stage. Full of unimpeachably good intentions, the production is fun and frolicsome up to a point, and sometimes simply bewildering.

A second Matilda it most certainly is not, even though the Vic is now in the care of that great musical's director, Matthew Warchus. But Max Webster's production offers sufficient invention to more than sustain a six-week run, and if the musical aspects shift uneasily between gospel and bluegrass (those are the best bits) to outtakes from Hair coupled with bad Jim Steinman, the puppetry elements offer their own separate enticements, not least the orange-hued, bewhiskered title character, versions of which should keep the theatre's merchandise desk humming throughout the run. 

Devotees of such minutiae may note that this was the second production in a single week (following the UK premiere of the New York play The Dazzle) to slip the word "antimacassar" into conversation - proof in itself that language at least is alive and well. And, indeed, part of the appeal of this story lies in the names themselves: both the "beavery", tree-loving creature of the title (a puppet here given voice by the protean Simon Lipkin) and his profit-minded nemesis, the Once-ler. That role is played by a jaunty, shaggy-haired Simon Paisley Day who resembles Paul Nicholas back in his rock musical days and gets various hard-driving numbers that might be better suited to, say, Rock of Ages.  

The story is one about learning, if you will, to see the forest for the trees, and director Webster and the book's adaptor, David Greig, certainly don't sell the message short in their crucial catering to the pre-teen brigade (indeed, the stalls at the press performance were packed with row after row of largely attentive kids to a degree I've never seen at a mainstream show.) If anything, one yearns after a while to take a proverbial axe to the more thesis-mongering aspects of a piece whose abiding preachiness can't be ignored, however many Vegas-style flourishes Webster and his designer, Rob Howell, have introduced to embellish proceedings. 

I liked the shimmering trio of sequined ladies that includes Matilda alumna Melanie La Barrie, and Charlie Fink's music is nothing if not eclectic, albeit at times a bit too overwrought for the show's good. Whatever one's cavils, there's no disputing the ingenious puppetry from Finn Caldwell (the Lorax itself takes three people to get him about) and the abundant animal life that gives pride of place to some backflipping bears. As for the concerns directed towards the "smogulous" world that we increasingly inhabit, one wonders whether the next destination for this production ought to be Beijing.

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