DR. SEUSS' THE LORAX (2017)
The Lorax is a kid-friendly cautionary tale from the much beloved Dr. Seuss, with an environmental message that’s more relevant than ever. But despite a hardworking cast and some clever staging, it’s a bit like a thneed: Seuss-speak for a tangled mass of yarn that claims to do everything but that we don’t really need.
The show is about a boy (Simon Paisley Day) who sets off to make his fortune, befriending and ultimately betraying the mythical Lorax (voiced by David Ricardo-Pearce and puppeteered by Laura Caldow and Ben Thompson). The stage adaptation pairs the story with original music by British folk/rock band Noah and the Whale.
Fortunately, it’s not all a miss. Rob Howell’s sets and costumes are a lot of fun, and his use of feathers and strands of fabric effectively capture the whimsical visual style of the book.
The diverse cast do the best they can with what they’re given, with many doubling as musicians and puppeteers. Stand out performances include Kirsty Malpass’s investigative TV reporter and ensemble member Kerri Norville, whose expressive face constantly reminds us of Seuss’s iconic cartoons.
Unfortunately, so much else falls flat. The songs capitalize on Seuss’s wonderful rhymes but lack good hooks (save for a ditty describing a Mad Max-esque machine called a Super-Axe-Hacker.)
Director Max Webster never nails the comedy – of which there isn’t nearly enough. For something so silly, it’s largely humourless.
But the biggest miss of all is the Lorax itself. Designed by Nick Barnes and Finn Caldwell, it has a flexible body but an expressionless face. With an enormous yellow moustache covering its mouth, the eyes are the only window to the Lorax’s soul – and they’re two unblinking orbs staring vacantly into the abyss. As a result, it’s nearly impossible to connect with the emotional compass of the show.
To make matters worse, the top of the puppet is controlled by what looks like a black handgun pressed against the back of its head for the entire performance.
It’s a thrill to see young audiences schooled in the ills of capitalist greed, but it’s too bad this lesson doesn’t have the magic of Seuss’s original book.