The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse is a colourful adaptation of the book by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen for ages 3-7. It looks and sounds cheery, but that belies some quite weird and dark elements. This is a quirky twist on a traditional fairy tale: all the characters are there, but they don’t behave quite how you’d imagine.
The story begins pleasantly in verse, with some trees warmly welcoming the audience in before we meet the larger-than-life character of Wolf, played by Tanika Yearwood. Wolf is so hungry he’ll eat anything; he gobbles up berries, chocolate wrappers and, in one gulp, Mouse (Simeon Desvignes). Landing inside Wolf’s stomach, Mouse finds Duck (Kathryn Bond) happily inhabiting the space. She considers it warm and cosy and is delighted by the smorgasbord of interesting and unusual foods that Wolf passes on to her. She has no wish to leave, and when she points out the benefits to Mouse he agrees. Their happy home is threatened when a couple of hunters arrive intending to kill Wolf, and they must exit the stomach to help him. The show concludes with a peculiar decision that is decidedly odd.
There’s plenty of comedy and silliness to be had here, with upbeat performances from the cast, who work well as a team, energetically playing multiple characters. Their physical performances are great fun, but Bond as Duck is a bit of a standout for me, showing excellent comic timing and delightful characterisation. There are moments where the audience get to shout out and the cast deal well with them, but these occur a little patchily, and a bit more interaction would certainly not go amiss. Overall, it feels a little too long, so punctuating with more regular audience input would perhaps tighten things up.
Male Arcucci’s stage and costume design are lovely – perhaps not as edgy as the illustrations in the book, but they work well with Catja Hamilton’s excellent lighting design. Sound design by Jack Baxter and music by Arun Ghosh are particularly fun in the section where the bodily sounds become audible, which literally brings the theatre alive!
The story is remarkably pragmatic, acknowledging that in the natural order of things these creatures would eat or be eaten by each other. It’s then disruptive when they find a way to live together. The hunters, too, ultimately question their normality, so the story is an interesting space for children to be in and to consider the human’s place in the world, whilst laughing alongside the animals.
All in all, if your family is up for a slightly surreal, funny fairy tale with furry friends at Christmas, this production is just the thing!
Adapted by: Jack McNamara from the book by Mac Barnett
Illustrated by: Jon Klassen
Directed by: Rachel Bagshaw
Associate Direction and Movement by: DK Fashola
Design by: Male Arcucci
Lighting Design by: Catja Hamilton
Sound Design by: Jack Baxter
Music by: Arun Ghosh
The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse is aimed at ages 3-7 and runs at the Unicorn Theatre until 31 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.