ONCE again, from across the footlights of the stage of the Hayward Theatre, a riot of colour, noise and raw talent engulfs its audience in two hours of wonder.
Seussical ticks so many boxes it’s hard to know where to start. Start with the audience then who by the end of the show were only just getting warmed up: an awful lot of hair was let down as an appreciative crowd stomped and cheered and sang along and simply didn’t want the evening to end. We were one GREAT audience.
The music, under the baton of that talented magician Neil Porter-Thaw, squeezing from an equally talented showband the nuances of an awkwardly adept score that demanded the best of musicianship and a whole bunch of concentration. That we couldn’t see the orchestra, tucked this time up and away against the back wall, may have been a shame, but what they lacked in visibility they made up for in volume. A wealth of all-American tunes from Stephen Flaherty with their roots in jazz and pop and Broadway musical and the march king Sousa combined in speed and dexterity to produce hummable tunes, repeated with effect and endurance, practically continuo, until they sang from the rafters.
The backstagers who whizzed back and forth to ensure a seamless evening. It was a wonder that with an elevating stage, aerial flying, palm trees everywhere, trucks and props, that nobody crashed headlong into anyone else. The sense of movement was a memory of those sweeping starlings in the dusk who know exactly where the other members of the flock, effortlessly gliding round each other to produce an extraordinary, ever-changing picture that moves the evening along on a sure and certain course.
Set design, wardrobe, make-up and hair, the puppet design and the bath design all larger than life and twenty times more colourful. Not a show to see with a headache as the richness of the artist’s entire palette was poured out into the stalls. Particularly effective were the costumes of the Grinch and the Sour Kangaroo (of whom more later), and General Schmitz. May their wearers never grow up.
The dancers … everyone knew what they were doing when and with whom and why. That’s the amazing thing and that’s the joy to watch. Natasha Hobbs seems to be able to take forty people and trust them to understand their place on the stage, as well as their moment in the sun. Nobody upstaged or crowded. Even professionals will at some point get it wrong; never tonight was there the feeling that a stitch had been dropped. Everyone won.
Nick Huntington, drawing it all together into the cauldron to produce a spell over the audience that quite simply swept us off our feet. His was the mammoth job of casting and cajoling, flattering and faulting, to get the best out of his talented company, many of whom don’t know (and please don’t tell them…) that they are stars in the making.
But where to start with the stars of the show? This is the most difficult bit. The story, for what it’s worth, is based loosely on Horton Hears a Who. The works of Dr Seuss are engrained deep in American children from the depths of the cot well into adulthood and Seussical shows respect for this greatest of literary institutions from across the pond. Yet tell anyone in Years 5 to 8 – that age group that performed miracles this evening – that this is a blistering example of US culture that permeates like the letters through a stick of rock and it will shimmer like water off the Grinch’s back. They’re there to perform. They’re there to live.
Thomas Bateman as the Cat in the Hat, knowing, haughty, canny, intelligent and completely dependable. Great comic timing, particularly when he opened the second half with the MD’s baton, conducting the band and playing with our emotions. A terrific and compelling performance, exceptional in its maturity given the sheer number of roles that the Cat took on to guide us through the show. Oliver Partridge as Jojo and the Boy: acrobatic, zestful, talented beyond his small years and with the ability to hold an audience in the palm of his hand. How does he do it? He may not even know himself. But he’s a natural.
As Horton the Elephant, Ben Kittoe had the tallest emotional ladder to climb. He stormed through the role with a scythe, wringing the best out of it, proving once again that his voice is strong and dynamic but with a care for the tiniest of changes in character that once again fleshed him out into an entire persona, reasonable, loveable, watachable. Florence Nell as Gertrude McFuzz and Araminta Gordon as Mayzie La Bird quite simply came across as professionals. Both have the ability to use whatever they’ve picked up as musical performers in the wider world, wherever they choose to place their unbounded talents. Two to watch.
Elliot Bord was General Schmitz – straight up, no mess, the tin soldier, the reckless warrior in charge of his troops. Commanded the stage as well. Quite a feat. Always in control. The Grinch was in the safe hands of Theodora Spufford; the Mayor and Mrs Mayor, straight from a sort of psychedelic Trumpton, were beautifully played by Matthew Jackson and Olivia Williams.
The rest of the company – Vlad, the Wickersham Brothers, Bird Girls, The Whos, the Citizens of the Jungle, General Schmitz’ Military Cadets, the Fish, Circus Acts and Hunches – quite simply glued the piece together. It’s a tribute to each and every one of them that they all gave everything they had to make sure the audience would know that they had all done as much as they could, and more. It was a stunning and visual spectacle.
One last nod: to Sophia Garrard as Sour Kangaroo. It’s hard to know where that voice comes from but it’s pure gold. An astoundingly rich amalgam of jazz and blues utterly belying the age of its owner. Quite, quite extraordinary. Juicical Seussical. Nothing will ever seem the same again. A person’s a person, no matter how small.