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Friday September 20, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Friday September 20, 2013 MYT 9:35:12 AM
by sharmilla ganesan
Good times: Fantastic Mr Fox delighted the audience both young and old.
Fine actors breathe life into Roald Dahl’s beloved book, Fantastic Mr Fox.
The question I was left with after revelling in the recent staging of Fantastic Mr Fox at PJ Live Arts was, how do I give the play an unbiased review? For after giggling and bobbing my head through the lively adaptation of Roald Dahl’s beloved book, the only lingering feelings I walked away with were those of delight and amusement – hardly conducive to nitpicking on niggling details!
The production, adapted for the stage by Britain’s Sir David Wood, and presented locally by Box Of Delights, is pitched as entertainment for the whole family, and not only does it amuse both old and young, it comes with the added bonus of making the old (ahem!) actually feel young!
The play hews very closely to the original book, telling the tale of the wily and dapper Mr Fox, who is the bane of three reprehensible farmers called Boggis, Bunce and Bean, as he steals fowl from their farms to feed his family. When the three band together to destroy Mr Fox and his home once and for all, it takes all his cunning to come up with a way to not only outwit the farmers, but keep his family well-fed and safe from harm.
Directed by Marvin Wong with Ghafir Akbar serving as mentor, the production is suffused with the kind of energy worthy of Dahl’s story, thanks to the many creative storytelling devices employed. While the animals are all played with ample spirit by actors, Boggis, Bunce and Bean – one fat, one short, one lean – are puppets manipulated by cast members, an inspired and often hilarious touch. There are also infectious songs, frenzied activity, and physical comedy aplenty to keep us riveted, complemented by perfectly-timed cartoon visuals projected onto the background.
These are enhanced by the inventive set design by Fang Chyi Chang, where simple wooden crates transform into both underground burrows and house cellars with a little creative tweaking, and litle homey touches give a cosy feel. Costumes by Dominique Devorsine and makeup by Cindy Hor further perfectly evoke the English countryside.
Of the cast, Sukania Venugopal is simply superb as Badger, who is not only Mr Fox’s friend, but serves as the play’s narrator as well. Her marvellously expressive portrayal and energetic body language almost steal every scene she’s in. Playing the titular character is Na’a Murad, who takes a rather unexpected approach: his Mr Fox here is less a shrewd trickster than he is a calm, kindly family man, and while he doesn’t always take centrestage, Na’a’s warm, fatherly portrayal is very endearing.
Other standout performers include Tria Aziz, who not only puppets and voices Bean, but plays Weasel as well as Mabel, a crotchety old housekeeper, and does it all brilliantly. Jerrica Lai, too, is really charming as Mrs Fox, particularly in the way she really got the “foxy” mannerisms down pat. The three young cast members, who play the Fox children – Arjun Kang, Caleb Fong and Toby Ann Ujhazy – meanwhile, seem like they’re having a ball of time.
The one grouse I have with the play is that it doesn’t quite deliver on the darker subtexts of Dahl’s story, such as the divide between the haves and have-nots, the questionable ethics of stealing to survive, and the struggle between nature and development.
Admittedly, it may be a bit much to expect such commentary in a production that aims to cater to all ages, but the fact that Dahl’s book manages to weave it into a children’s story shows that it can be done.
But honestly, these were thoughts that came to mind only later. Walking out of the play, the only thought in my mind was that I wanted to traipse about and loudly sing, to quote the rousing finale song: “Some cider inside her inside!”
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, fantastic mr fox, play, roald dahl, box of delights
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