Review - Fantastic Mr Fox (UK Tour)

In the wake of the Brexit vote, Fantastic Mr Fox's musical adaptation feels particularly apt. The story of a family of foxes (joined, in a deviation from the original text, by a litany of other forest dwelling friends) who steal from a trio of hapless shotgun toting farmers, has been a popular bedtime favourite for over 40 years, but feels as if it could have been written as a direct response to the state of the nation right now. The fox hunt which dominates one half of the plot of Fantastic Mr Fox is masterminded by Farmer Bean who enlists the help of local landowners in an attempt to take their valley back, meanwhile Mr Fox learns that despite his reservations, he and his subterranean pals are stronger together.

Greg Barnett as Mr Fox in Fantastic Mr Fox
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
A strong ensemble cast bring Dahl's well-loved roster of characters to life, with the charismatic Greg Barnett perfectly pitching Mr Fox's swagger and bravado, and Richard Atwill excellently doubling as both the dead eyed scheming Farmer Bean and the drunken Rat who guards Bean's cellar. 

Roald Dahl's trademark grotesqueness is less prominent in Sam Holcroft's adaptation, but it is there nevertheless, especially embodied in Farmer Bean, whose obsession with foxes is the most entertaining subplot (after shooting off Mr Fox's tail at the beginning of the show he proceeds to sniff it and use it as a polishing cloth for the barrel of his gun before eventually attaching it to a Rambo-esque headband, tearing off his shirt and howling up at the night sky). Of course, there's plenty of broad humour for the younger fans to enjoy, but the often sharp and witty writing provides parents with plenty of laughs too. It's a shame that the farm raids undertaken by Mr Fox and friends feel a bit flat at times, but the finale complete with laser beams, a brilliantly choreographed motion sensor evasion routine, and a terrifying red eyed guard dog, is a high energy success. 

Music by Arthur Darvill is hit and miss; with songs spread rather sparsely throughout it doesn't seem right to label Fantastic Mr Fox as a full blown musical. There are however a couple of undeniably jaunty pop tunes scattered throughout, which capture the energy and vivaciousness of the show overall and are performed with vigor by the onstage band, dressed in cobalt blue bird costumes.

Tom Scutt's vivid design, dominated by clashing oranges and blues, gives the production an ultramodern feel, and yet it maintains a somewhat homespun aesthetic. The set is adorned with bits and bobs from the human world, and the woodland creatures costumes are unmistakably human, and yet perfectly encapsulate their animalistic essence. The fox family are dressed in neon orange sportswear, whilst Badger models a black and white football kit, and Rabbit, dressed in a full body leotard, looks just about ready for her next zumba class.

With laughs, adventure, and a couple of great morals, Fantastic Mr Fox is unmistakably Dahl. A little tame now and then, but a good night out with the family nevertheless. With the likes of Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and now Fantastic Mr Fox, popping up on stage, it's surely only a matter of time before the next Roald Dahl page to stage adaptation. Esio Trot could make a sweet chamber musical, or how about a rock opera based on The Witches? The opportunities are countless! 

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