‘The Smartest Giant in Town’ review

Theatre, Children's
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars
The Smartest Giant in Town, Little Angel Theatre, 2021
Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

Gorgeous-looking and super-fun kids’ adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s picture book

There will probably come a time pretty soon when I’ll have to start writing theatre reviews that don’t start with words to the effect of ‘aaaaargh! [Insert name of theatre] is back! Brilliant!!’.

But not today.

The Little Angel is the first of London’s kids’ theatres to reopen, and to this weary parent, it feels like Islington’s puppet paradise has never been away.

Aimed at ages three-to-eight, ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’ reunites a whole host of familiar Angel faces: songwriter Barb Jungr; theatre boss Samantha Lane, who adapts and directs; and above all the mighty Julia Donaldson, whose percussively rhythmic picture books – often, as here, illustrated by Axel Scheffler – have provided the source material for numerous shows at this address over the years.

If you’re not familiar, ‘The Smartest Giant…’ is set in a charming world in which humans, giants and talking bipedal animals all live together harmoniously. The story concerns a scruffy giant named George (Duane Gooden wearing a big giant head), who shambles around in a robe and sandals until one fateful day he sees the local clothes shop has some natty new giant clothes in stock. He gets a power makeover – but a series of encounters with unfortunate animals lead to him kindly giving away his new purchases to those less fortunate, eg he gives his tie away to a giraffe with a cold neck, so it can use it as a scarf.

All Julia Donaldson adaptations are ultimately an exercise in making a book that takes five minutes to read last 45 or so minutes on stage. But the way ‘The Smartest Giant…’ goes about it really is lovely: Jungr’s songs are a cut above, especially a clutch of droll electro-pop numbers. There’s a big, fun, audience-interactive scene based around the trip to the clothes shop (which is barely dealt with in the book). It has a lovely sense of its own absurdity: Gooden’s affable George is not actually as enormous as he’s depicted as in the book, so there’s a fun running joke whereby he keeps dropping items of clothing just before he hands them over to an animal, only to instead pick up a much larger prop hidden in Kate Bunce‘s cheery set. Above all, Judith Hope’s puppet design is absolutely lovely – from the towing giraffe to the family of mice, the puppets are basically Scheffler’s boggle-eyed illustrations brought to furry 3D life.

The production is at the Studio, which has flexible seating, rather than the main theatre, which doesn’t, and with social distancing almost inevitably extended for a month, tickets are going to be very hard to come by for a while - hopefully the capacity will go up in time for the summer holidays and the last few weeks of the show. For those lucky enough to have a ticket, though: aaaaargh! The Little Angel is back! Brilliant!!

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