“I fooled you!”
The recurrent smug smirk of the titular boy to his frustrated mother is the best page marker for this fantastic collection of Aesop’s fables.
After the sailaway success of 2011’s outdoor production Treasure Island (directed by Sally Cookson, who is also behind The Boy Who Cried Wolf!), Bristol Old Vic has once again created an outdoor magical land on the cobbles in front of its historic theatre on Bristol’s King Street.
And whereas two years ago we were swept away by a swashbuckling tale aboard a recreated pirate ship, this year we’re immersed in a forestry set that feels like the living embodiment of Enid Blyton’s famous Magic Faraway Tree. The set includes real trees coppiced from West Tanpit Woods, as well as imaginatively painted corrugated iron backdrops, ladders and gangplanks above head height, and a fabulous treehouse for the musicians.
The ancient Greek slave Aesop was responsible for hundreds of moralistic fables, and beloved children’s author Michael Morpurgo whittled these down to just 21 for his edited anthology, and of those a small handful were picked for the Old Vic’s new show. Some are well known (The Hare and The Tortoise, The Boy Who Cried Wolf!, The Goose and the Golden Egg), while others are less familiar (The Sun and The Wind, The Cat Belling, The Miller, His Son and The Donkey). But by the end of the show, all will have become much loved by a new audience.
The three main cast members are Chris Bianchi, Lucy Tuck and Tom Wainwright – all of whom assume a number of roles, and all of whom support each other magnificently with a joyous camaraderie. They are backed up by the musical Bower brothers Benji and Will, who also join the cast in a few supporting roles. Benji’s terrifying brown bear is one of the highlights of the evening – with his rolling eyes and wild hair perfectly supporting the ferocity of his megaphoned roars.
Alongside the title story – which is told in three parts throughout the evening, highlights for me were The Miller, His Son and The Donkey (complete with wonderful donkey sound effects), and The Goose and The Golden Egg (for which the goose is magnificently represented by a shopping bag, feather duster, salad tongs and rubber gloves – pictured above). The subtlety of the goose gently grooming herself as her greedy owner fantasised over the apparently luxurious pages of Clifton Life was a thoughtful little something extra.
The only segment that worked less well was The Sun and The Wind, which failed to hold my attention – and I found myself gazing away from the stage and over the rooftops of King Street. There was also an over-long song towards the end of the performance, for which the cast was uncharacteristically sedentary, which again lost my attention. But these are small niggles.
However, the music, led by Benji Bower (below), is what really makes The Boy Who Cried Wolf! a magical show. He’s obviously an extremely talented composer who is perfectly placed to score theatrical productions.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf! is performed on the cobbles of King Street outside Bristol Old Vic until 1 September. Click here for more information and to book your tickets. The first 50 tickets for every show are just £10 each.