Mother (Almost Never) Knows Best: Listen to Your Heart: A Tongue In Cheek Review of What The Ladybird Heard Live

Sunday, 29 April 2018

Listen to Your Heart: A Tongue In Cheek Review of What The Ladybird Heard Live

'What the Ladybird Heard" - Julia Donaldson's modern classic about a small, timorous  insect who uses her ingenuity to overthrow a local crime ring when she learns that they threaten those to whom she is closest - is a story that the breeders of this country are well acquainted. It is a story which transcends race, class and the age of faecal continence; the tale of good overcoming evil and a small, noble voice finally being, not merely acknowledged, but revered. 
We were an hour early

In short, the telling of such a beloved chronicle was always going to be a tough undertaking and I arrived at the doors of the King's Theatre in Edinburgh under a cloud of scepticism. To be honest, when I entered the world of children's literature in the summer of 2014, I favoured those publications with rhyme and elegant art. Having stumbled upon Julia Donaldson (which in parenting terms is like stumbling across J.K. Rowling) I favoured the Axel Scheffler illustrations as I thought them more pleasing to the adult eye (and my daughter was an avid book reader so you had to look out for yourself) but when she saw the rainbow colours and farmyard animals adorning the cover of this volume she was enraptured. I, however, was less than enthused as I thought the drawings simplistic and two dimensional but my faith in Jules was strong so we made the investment and our life was never the same again. Well, ok, maybe not but it was a bloody good children's book.
Bloody good

When my son finally started showing interest in the literary world at the grand age of 18months, having previously been far more concerned with the laws of physics (how far can I throw this ball/meal/small animal?), this was the cornerstone of his education. It had everything from colours to first animal noises with a dusting of moral philosophy throughout. He would read nothing else. 
The ONLY book he will read

So when I happened upon "What The Ladybird Heard- Live" and saw that it was coming to a theatre near us I was rushing to stand in line at the box office (the digital line, obviously, this isn't the 90s). Three months later, having battled through a particularly nasty bout of gastroenteritis (me), prolific protestations regarding leaving the house (them) and incredibly inclement weather (Edinburgh), we were there. Along with our own "fine prize cow" and the entire breeding community of the Lothian area. 
Our "fine prize cow"
Whilst attempting to rouse one toddler from an untimely slumber and placate the other, who has more questions about life than the British people do about Brexit, we took the opportunity to survey the set design. It was meticulous both in its childlike form and in its ability to transport us into the world of Lydia Monks (the book's illustrator). My cloud of scepticism was lifting.
Setting the Scene
The play closely adhered to its origins, focussing on a motley group of farm workers and their enactment of the favourite tale. The farm had a prize winning cow, two cats (who spoke and were the Muppets Waldorf & Statler reincarnated) and a timid ladybird. The remaining creatures were cobbled together on stage using paraphernalia from the farmyard. While I was initially disappointed at this turn of events the livestock eventually assembled were even closer to their illustrations than a puppet could have ever been. It was sublime. Furthermore, the score was infectious and had me audibly singing along during the performance (despite the heckles from the stalls) and on numerous occasions since.

The acting was simply divine with the (clearly classically trained) thespians inhabiting their roles like Daniel Day Lewis in an Oscar winning performance. Raymond, in particular, who played the part of Lanky Len has impeccable comic timing and the voice of an angel (albeit a fallen, gravelly one), a true credit to the actors guild and a shoe in for a Tony as soon as this show hits Broadway.

In summary, should you get the opportunity to see this production (and I believe they are on tour around the UK) I would strongly urge you to nurture your inner "culture vulture" and feast upon this delectable banquet of stagecraft. 

PS. Genuinely, this is one of the best children's productions I have seen to date and I have seen quite a few (anything to take a break from Duggee and the Jetters). Having said that, my daughter is to "inhabit the role" of the lead character in Julia's later work of the "Snail and the Whale" in her nursery performance in a few weeks so this crowd are sure to be bumped down the leaderboard soon.

Mum Muddling Through

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