Southwark Playhouse, London – until 29 December 2018
Guest reviewer: Emily Schofield
Imaginative, witty and beautiful – Seussical will make you feel like a five-year-old again.
When I walked into the Southwark Playhouse theatre and saw a plethora of bright colours, trees and flowers growing from the walls and stripes galore; I knew that this production of Seussical was going to be something very special indeed.
Seussical was originally conceived by Lynn Ahrens, Stephen Flaherty and Eric Idle and is set in the world of Dr Seuss’ creations. It mostly follows the plot of Horton Hears a Who, in which Horton the Elephant tries to convince the rest of the jungle that there is another world living on a speck of dust. However, the show also features a lot of side plots and slight changes to the original plot of the Dr Seuss story.
This current production is directed by James Tobias with choreography by Chris Whittaker, and what a spectacular show they’ve put together. From beginning to end, I was grinning and laughing throughout. Whether it was the Cat in the Hat interrupting dramatic moments by dancing across the stage with a water gun or just the intelligent lyrical writing which perfectly mimicked Seuss’ famous rhyming writing style. This show is a true spectacle and is the closest I think I’ll ever get to feeling fully immersed in the world of Dr Seuss.
The costume design (Rachel Cartlidge) is one of the most visually exciting elements of this show. Considering that the vast majority of characters are animals of some description, the costumes are very human-like and displayed important character traits. The Whos, for example, have outfits which seemed inspired by the 1950s but are also a bright shade of yellow, showing not only their conformist nature but also allowing them to still seem fully connected to their colourful surroundings.
All of the costumes felt very well thought out and allowed the morals of the story to really shine through the performance, as it was easy to relate the stories to real life situations when the characters still looked so much like people. I think this was a very intelligent choice and forced the audience to use their imaginations more – which is exactly how Dr Seuss himself would want it!
The entire cast of this show is wonderful, with every performer being completely committed both in energy and intensity. However it should be noted that the performances of Marc Pickering (Cat in the Hat) and Anna Barnes (JoJo) were outstanding. They led the show superbly, whilst also being able to maintain a positive naivety during moments of conflict. Somehow, every negative situation was given a positive twist by the two characters and nothing felt hopeless, which is the ideal scenario for young children and families.
I think it would be a mistake to think that this show is exclusively aimed at young children and that adults won’t take anything away from it. The beauty of Seussical is that it’s messages are ageless and appropriate for everyone. Likewise, a lot of conflict in the show has a lot of real-world comparisons, such as a reference to plastic surgery and body modifications through Mayzie La Bird seeing a Doctor to get a bigger tail. The show isn’t childish and boring for adults – if anything adults can take more away from it than younger viewers potentially could by looking at the production more critically.
One thing that I would have liked would have been if a few more Dr Seuss characters could have made appearances in the show. There was a brief reference to the Grinch however characters such as the Lorax making an appearance as well would’ve been nice. However I fully appreciate that it isn’t possible for all of Seuss’ works to be used and for the piece to still feel cohesive – so this is something I can live without.
It would be interesting to see how this production would have adapted to a theatre with the ability to walk amongst the audience a bit more. One great element of the show was it’s immersive quality and the brief audience participation during the auction scene was a lot of fun. I would be very intrigued to know if the show would have been more interactive if the space allowed it, as I think it would be a lot of fun to explore that avenue.
To summarise, Seussical the Musical is a huge amount of fun. It’s heartfelt and hilarious and an absolute must for any fan of Dr Seuss’ work – it’ll certainly cause a lot of nostalgia if you grew up with these stories in the same way that I did!
By Emily Schofield
Seussical the Musical continues to play at the Southwark Playhouse until the 29th December. For more information visit: https://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/show/seussical/