Lyric Theatre, London – until 5 January 2020
Mummy sometimes thinks the munchkins have too many books. Like when both their bedroom bookshelves are overflowing and and the living room looks like a children’s library. But sometimes Mummy thinks they don’t have enough books. Like when she sees a children’s show based on a popular picture book series that the munchkins haven’t read. Which happens to us not infrequently.
Such as yesterday, when Mummy was invited to review the West End premiere of Oi Frog & Friends! Mummy thinks she was probably one of the very few audience members who neither knew the book(s) off by heart, nor was either a small person herself or in possession of a such a person. Which, it turns out, is both a great way of assessing whether a show like this works in isolation from the source material and a really good excuse for Mummy to buy the munchkins more books…..
Oi Frog & Friends!, presented by Kenny Wax Entertainment, is a musical adventure which brings together Kes Gray and Jim Field’s bestselling and award-winning picture books Oi Frog!, Oi Dog!, Oi Cat! and Oi Duck-billed Platypus! live on stage. Not knowing the books, it struck Mummy that they had been weaved together very effectively, with no obviously joins showing where the different books have been stitched together like she has seen in other adaptations of book series.
Creators Emma Earle (direction and script), Zoe Squire (design and script), Luke Bateman (music and script) and Richy Hughes (lyrics and script) have achieved this by expanding some of the features of the books and creating a new setting for the story to take place; the Sittingbottom School for Animals. Here, the characters appear together from the start (well – except the platypus – who makes a late and highly entertaining appearance courtesy of a good-spirited adult audience member!)
The action begins with Frog’s (John Winchester) first day at Sittingbottom. Here he encounters prefect, Cat (Lucy Tuck), whose strict adherence to rhyming rules is playing havoc with the bottoms of some of the creatures. Not least the rebellious Frog, who is not overly keen on having to sit on a log. Some animals are also having a tough time because nothing seems to rhyme with their name. Where on earth do badgers sit?!
Meanwhile Dog (Darren Seed) just wants to follow the rules, but this means sitting on Frog. And when that happens, Frog takes matters into his own hands, writing his own rule-book and vowing that no creature will be uncomfortable again. But Frog quickly gets a taste for rhyming and his rules become just as ridiculous and – in some cases uncomfortable – as Cat’s. Can anyone stop Frog’s rhyming tyranny? The armadillos on their pillows may not be bothered. But it’s not so much fun for the whales on nails. Or poor Cat and her gnat-bitten bottom….
The result is an entertaining, musical romp through many of the well-known rhymes from the books (which Mummy can say confidently given how many of the adorable small people around her were yelling out the relevant rhymes with glee!) The script is witty and (Mummy means this in a good way) in traditional pantomime style, contains plenty to entertain the adults. There’s also plenty of audience participation to keep the kids engaged. The songs are upbeat, catchy and full of clever lyrics that will delight adults and children alike. A particular highlight was the musical number involving the transformation of a dreary dinner hall into a Mexican cantina, upon Frog’s assertion that Cheetah (Simon Yadoo) must sit on a fajita.
Other memorable moments include the time-honoured trick of squirting the audience with a water pistol (in this case, the trunk of an elephant doomed to sit on smelly pants) and a whale with a Welsh accent. Party pooper adults intending to have a nice nap while their children enjoy the show should also be aware that there is a moment involving giant beach balls that bounce off the heads of the audience…..
The characters are brought to life vividly using a range of different puppets, masterfully operated by the cast of four who prove just how much talent it takes to put on a production that can hold the attention of both preschoolers and their associated adults for almost an hour. It’s a great example of a well-crafted show that respects the entire audience. Except, possibly, the poor soul who ends up playing Dolly the Duck-Billed Platypus! A great introduction to live theatre for young audiences, which doesn’t rely on having read the books (although this probably heightens enjoyment, particularly for the very youngest children). And a really good all-round family show that offers a real alternative to the traditional panto this December.
RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles and Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things).
Oi Frog & Friends! is playing at the Lyric Theatre from 29 December 2019 to 5 January 2020 as part of a national tour.