Touring – reviewed at Rose Theatre, Kingston
Based on the book by Julia Donaldson with illustrations by Axel Scheffler, Zog, in an adaptation by Mike Shepherd with Freckle Productions has made its world premiere in a superbly fun, colourful and heartwarming way that will entertain adults and children alike.
Zog and his friends are growing up and learning how to become the best dragons they can be; on this mission, they attend Madam Dragon’s school where they try their hardest to win a golden star. Whilst they struggle and succeed, Princess Pearl is there to help them along and give them the courage they need.
Theatre does an amazing job of subtly giving children the curiosity and creativity they need to understand our world. The characters on stage mirror our world and teach us how to understand emotions and empathise with one another. Towards the end of Zog, there is a particular scene where the dragons have to decide whether they continue for their own personal gain, or, help their friend Pearl.
The young girl I took to the show turned to me and said: “That’s not fair, they’re being mean,” which may seem like a passing comment but there’s no doubt that theatre opens up pathways for conversations about what it means to be good. As a production, Zog brilliantly paves the way for these conversations and brings out the importance of having self-belief whilst helping others.
The small but mighty Zog cast has done a marvellous job of creating a bright world where rabbits bark and dragons roam theatres. Not only do they give greatly emotive and energetic performances but their musicality is outstanding. With all live music, the team work as one to play various instruments and make use of a loop pedal to provide a score (composed by Johnny Flynn) which bubbles and keeps the piece going. The on-stage instrument changes are just another way the little audience are inspired and its exceptionally entertaining to watch the performers work so seamlessly in this peak of children’s theatre.
As title dragon, Elliot MacKenzie is mischievous and caring, whilst Euan Wilson as Madame Dragon is harsh but humourous and feels like the dragon equivalent of Miss Trunchbull! Emily Benjamin gives a heartwarming performance as Princess Pearl, both vocally and acting wise, and shows how strong girls are. The message that you can achieve anything in life as long as you put your mind to it is ever necessary and Emily puts it across in an empowering and lovely way. Robert Ginty as Sir Gadabout the Great is especially humourous as he gets the audience involved in his search for the Knight and Dixie McDevitt, brings the ensemble characters (including the adorable rabbits) to life in a fantastic way.
The simple set of scaffolding and stars, designed by Katie Sykes works well to allow the story to move locations but also leaves room for the imagination to roam wild. Props such as fire streamers, add an extra element of excitement and alongside Lyndie Wright’s stunningly crafted puppets, the show feels very well put together. The cast transition from being the dragons themselves, to controlling the puppet dragons superbly and manage to maintain the magic throughout.
As an adult, there’s something wonderful about hearing children be inspired. The excitable gasps of wonder that pepper the audience, the beaming smiles on faces and the buzz of enthusiasm makes us happy in return and shows just how important theatre is as a tool to teach. Team Zog have created a piece of theatre which will captivate and influence the audience in the most wonderful way.
Zog runs at the Rose Theatre until 23rd February before starting it’s UK tour
photo credit: Helen Maybanks