Refreshingly creative plays are hard to come by nowadays. Edward Green reviews the theatrical rendition of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax at London’s The Old Vic and how the classic children’s book’s message still rings true.
David Greig’s latest theatrical offering is a stimulating rendition of Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s tale. Adapted superbly for all ages, the play delivers a multi-media experience through puppetry and music, underlined by a deeply important ecological message.
The play commences and we are met by an eerie ensemble of kids dipping in and out of each other’s speech in archetypal Seuss rhyme. They pry at an old, decrepit pair of eyes to tell us his story, the mysterious creature agrees, and we are sent into the past.
For those who were blessed with this enchanted book as a child, they will notice delightful changes have been made to the original 1971 fable. The story’s protagonist, the Once-ler, played with an unshakable kind-heartedness by Simon Paisley Day, gains a working-class family, a donkey, and a 21st century inherent want for money. These questionable assets lead him in search of a profitable venture, which is how he stumbles upon the land of the Truffula trees.
It is within this peaceful land, of multi-coloured (and multi-purpose) trees, that the Once-ler makes his name as a capitalist giant. After felling one of the sacred Truffula trees and discovering its profitable possibilities, we meet our three-foot, loveable environmentalist – the Lorax. The orange, beaver-like creature springs out from behind the trunk of the freshly harvested tree in outrage. But when I say spring, I mean quickly elevated by three skilful puppeteers who manipulate his every step. Equipped with a playful yellow moustache, which lively dances along with every word uttered by the fantastic Simon Lipkin, the Lorax comes to life.
Over the next two, quick hours, we see Dr. Seuss’ intended analogy become evident. The Once-ler ignores pleas made to stop his atrocities and continues to exploit the land for his own personal gain. Greig highlights this greed, and the consequences of capitalism in many different, relatable ways.
The story’s lethal form of air pollution: ‘smogulous smoke’, intoxicates many of the ‘Swomee Swans’ and ‘Humming Fish’ who inhabit the land, to the point of extinction. A recent study by Kings College London found that ‘Nearly 9,500 people die early each year in London due to long-term exposure to air pollution.’ It seems ridiculous to think that a story so shocking as this, which effects the world’s population, is met with horror, than when it is performed on a stage.
Although the production makes humour out of these themes to appeal to the younger audience, de-forestation in the world is no laughing matter. The performance leaves the viewer with no conclusion other than that fracking is quite obviously a bad thing. So how come our government hasn’t yet come to this discovery? Earlier last week, the BBC published results that showed British ‘MPs have voted to allow fracking for shale gas 1,200m below national parks and other protected sites.’
This sense of complete disregard for our surroundings and the lengths we go to, as humans, to acquire power is echoed in the closing stages of the play, when the Once-ler argues: ‘We have to go forward Lorax, until we get to the end!’
A happily-ever-after climax is thankfully reached when we return back to the present tense. Another song and the stalls are emptied out after a much-deserved applause. However strongly the play affects your take on the real world, it’s safe to say that this is a successful rendition of an enjoyable and thought-provoking story, which stays true to it’s roots and brings its own unique elements to the fable.
video courtesy of The Old Vic – YouTube
The Lorax runs at London’s The Old Vic theatre (SE1) until January 2016. Check out the fantastic PwC deals The Old Vic offers for their performances here.