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Fantastic Mr Fox

Published April 17, 2008

Everyone knows foxes are clever; bold, wily London foxes who have figured out how to open up wheelie bins and hang about the back doors of restaurants to get the best leftovers, and the country foxes who live by their wits and get into chicken coops. At the Open Air this summer, there is a play about a particularly clever one. Jo Fletcher-Cross went to find out why this one is Fantastic Mr Fox…

I love Roald Dahl, so I am very happy to be sitting in the sunshine watching David Wood’s adaptation of the classic children’s story, Fantastic Mr Fox. I have brought along some discerning audience members with me, Lily, age four, and Ben, who is seven, to make sure I know what is going on.

From the charming opening, where all the animals come on and dance, to the introduction by wise old Mr Badger (Anthony Pedley), who acts as our narrator for the rest of the show, we are hooked into the story of the most amazing digger that there ever was, Mr Fox (Peter Duncan). The four main digger families – the foxes, the badgers, the weasels and the moles – live happily in the woods, with Mr Fox providing for his family by stealing chickens, ducks and geese from the local farmers.

Unfortunately, the farmers are getting a bit tired of this behaviour and set out to get him. The horrid trio of Farmers Boggis (Michael Geary), Bunce (Gary Bates) and Bean (Christian Edwards) come up with a plan to kill him, but only manage to shoot off his tail. There the hardships begin, as the farmers stake out the fox hole and Mr Fox’s family have to dig deep and go into hiding.

Susie Caulcutt’s simple, lovely design features a hill with the home of the foxes hidden inside, which is revealed from behind a curtain as Mr Fox brings home some food for his wife and the little foxes. The detailed, rural-style costumes of each animal are highly effective (though there is some initial confusion with the black and white badgers, as Lily thinks they are pandas, but that is soon cleared up), particularly the chicken hats which the whole company wears to represent the hysterical inhabitants of Boggis’s chicken house number one.

The animal family children are played by a team of talented singing and dancing kids. Their taunting rhyme about the farmers – “Boggis and Bunce and Bean, one fat, one short, one lean; these horrible crooks so different in looks, were none the less equally mean” – is hotly disputed by Lily, who hates Bean the most because he makes all the plans, and thinks the other two are just stupid and following him into it. Boggis in particular is definitely none too bright, a stumbling bearded fool who is enjoyably felled by a tree.

There is some very satisfying hissing and booing to be done as the farmers vow death to the foxes; and even some singing along at the end. David Wood has directed as well as adapted this story of wit and wile versus greed and stupidity, which made me laugh in all the right places. It is recommended for those aged over four; those a bit older, like me, will enjoy it too.

JFC

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