Family theatre in London this summer

Four shows for the family in London this August: which to see?

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Ian FosterLeave a Comment

A rare summer in the city for me means I can take in some of the family shows on in the West End right now – including Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical, The Scarecrow’s Wedding, Where is Peter Rabbit? and Monstersaurus.

The world of Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical (suitable for 7yrs+) as imagined by director Amy Hodge and designer Georgia Lowe is a fantastically bizarre one, full of warm and witty touches that should delight children and adults alike. Tiny gingerbread professors, menacing sunflowers, dancing doughnuts, a rainforest of umbrellas, it is an impressive and inventive take on imaginative world-building that perfectly suits Andy Stanton’s storytelling.

All things told, it is a fairly slight tale – bears, beers, butchers, you know the usual, but there’s just such a sense of fun about the whole proceedings. The cast revel in non-sequiturs aplenty (Helena Lymbery, Steve Furst and Gary Wilmot particularly impress), Jim Fortune’s eclectic score builds in post-modern layers that further pique the interest, and the show even manages to sneak in some pretty powerful messaging among all the madness. Recommended.

Scamp Theatre’s adaptation of Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler’s The Scarecrow’s Wedding (suitable for 3yrs+) aims a little younger with its audience but hits its mark no less effectively. Warmly inviting, the company of three – Michael Palmer, Katy Ellis and Patrick Orkney – take us on a delightful journey through the wedding planning of sweet scarecrows Betty O’Barley and Harry O’Hay who search their farm for what they need for their big day.

Eva Sampson’s direction nails the interactive aspect, encouraging us all to be democratically-inclined cows here and hunt down shell necklaces there. And her show embraces the occasional wackiness – no questions asked about the Mexican crab… – which keeps everything light and fun. There’s also a beautiful string and banjo-laden score, courtesy of Darren Clarke (whose work on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a highlight of the year so far) which elevates this into something special too.

By comparison, Where is Peter Rabbit? (suitable for 4yrs+) proves a much more traditional affair. Devised by Roger Glossop from Beatrix Potter’s iconic stories, Sheila Carter’s production gathers together four of the best-known tales under the loose frame of Ms Potter herself looking for the mischevious Peter. There’s some effective animal puppetry, Jemima Puddle-Duck in flight is particularly lovely,  though things get seriously creepy with the humans – Mr McGregor’s face would give anyone nightmares!

Less successful is the attempt to make the show a musical, Steven Edis’ songs proving too slight despite the lyrical contribution from Sir Alan Ayckbourn. The result is a show which is perhaps a little too polite for younger souls but nevertheless, remains a neat gateway into the alluring world of these stories.

And a first trip to Troubadour White City Theatre saw me take in Monstersaurus (suitable for 3yrs+) which didn’t quite click for me, although I have to say that most of the kids around me were thoroughly engaged. Big Wooden Horse Theatre’s adaptation of Claire Freedman’s monster-loving book is full of warm silliness and song and dance – best enjoyed en famille.

Mr Gum and the Dancing Bear the Musical is booking at the National Theatre until 31st August
The Scarecrow’s Wedding is booking at the Leicester Square Theatre until 1st September
Where is Peter Rabbit? is booking at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 1st September
Monstersaurus is booking at the White City Theatre until 11th August
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Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."
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Ian Foster on FacebookIan Foster on RssIan Foster on Twitter
Ian Foster
Since 2003, Ian Foster has been writing reviews of plays, sometimes with a critical element, on his blog Ought to Be Clowns, which has been listed as one of the UK's Top Ten Theatre Blogs by Lastminute.com, Vuelio and Superbreak. He averages more than 350+ shows a year. He says: "Call me a reviewer, a critic or a blogger, and you will apparently put someone or other's nose out of joint! So take it or leave it, essentially this is my theatrical diary, recording everything I go to see at the theatre in London and beyond, and venturing a little into the worlds of music and film/TV where theatrical connections can be made."

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