For lovers of rhyming picture book supremo Julia Donaldson, this is an enticing prospect: a chance to see her read and help to act out five of her popular stories, accompanied by her husband Malcolm and sister Mary.
We’re introduced to the colourful library set by two young actors (Joanna Hutt and James Huttington), who play additional characters as the set splits and reassembles to form backdrops and props for each tale. The visual style of each book is faithfully and impressively recalled via Marc Parrett's top-notch puppets and costumes, donned by the actors and the family members themselves. Julia’s moustachioed husband Malcolm is a particular joy, his amateurish but game acting skills delighting the audience and his guitar skills put to good use, particularly in the telling of A Squash and A Squeeze, which is performed as a singalong song.
Donaldson is untouchable in her field, so it goes without saying that the narrative parts of the script are excellent. It’s lovely to see Julia, Malcolm and Mary in the flesh, humanising the omnipresent ‘author’ that children hear so much about in school and showing their passion for sharing the books.
It’s hard to imagine any child leaving disappointed, so it seems almost churlish to say that this lacks somewhat as a theatre experience. But it is all rather literal: there are no risks taken with the source material, the production style or the sometimes stilted audience interaction. There’s plenty of magic in a Julia Donaldson book. Here, the magic is faithfully copied and projected, but it’s not given the further dash of sparkle that a really good theatre show can bring.