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The Smartest Giant in Town

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

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The Little Angel’s charming, song-filled adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s book about a scruffy giant returns to the West End

So totally do Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler dominate the imaginations of Britain’s under-fives that not one, not two but three Donaldson-Scheffler adaptations are playing in the West End this Christmas. But if you and your offspring haven’t already been done in by ‘The Gruffalo’s Child’ (nepo baby much?) at the Garrick or ‘Stick Man’ at Leicester Square, then it’s well worth throwing in your lot at St Martin’s Theatre with ‘The Smartest Giant in Town’.

Based on a (relatively underrated, imo) early work by the reigning king and queen of kids’ picture books, ‘The Smartest Giant…’ tells the story of George: an actually rather scruffy but extremely kind-hearted giant whose attempt to smarten up his act quickly unravels as he meets five animals in need.

In George’s bucolic town, giants, regular-sized humans and talking animals coexist in apparent harmony amid rolling hills and cute cottages, making for plenty of opportunities for the show to mess about with scale with Kate Bunce’s economical set and props – especially when George hands over his suddenly-giant-sized clothes to the animals.

Giraffe, goat, mouse, fox and dog are played by adorable puppets – designed by Judith Hope – based faithfully on Scheffler’s illustrations, and animated with a variety of accents by an energetically multitasking pair of actor/puppeteers. (The show is a transfer from Little Angel Puppet Theatre in Islington, and directed by its head honcho Samantha Lane.) Duane Gooden plays George, channelling panto experience and giving much more charisma than you’d expect from a man in a massive fake head.

In a vaguely sacrilegious twist, the main song from the book is almost downplayed in favour of the original songs by cabaret stalwart Barb Jungr – the ballad of the cold giraffe is a highlight. With a slender 55-minute running time, there’s only the occasional baggy section. My two-and-a-half-year-old, a Donaldson disciple like most of the audience, was rapt throughout. But even if you aren’t familiar with George’s tale – or indeed aged two-to-eight – it’s hard not to get sucked into this production’s zany, feel-good vibe.

James Manning
Written by
James Manning


£10-£26.50 concs. Runs 55min
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