'What the Ladybird Heard' review or 'A fun little flutter.'

'What the Ladybird Heard', Julia Donaldson (stage adaptation)
Lyric Theatre, 15th July 2017
Written for Guardian online 

My six-year-old goddaughter Blue is now too big to sit on my lap at the theatre – and she’s a bit too old for this polished stage version of Julia Donaldson’s picture book about the plot to steal a prize cow. This is a charming production, as light as a ladybird’s wings – but although billed as suitable for ages three plus, it’s really for ages five and below. When we leave, she forlornly asks: “Why were there so many songs and no story?” 
The four-strong cast give it everything they’ve got: this is the type of 110% children’s theatre acting that directors encourage so often but that drives me to despair. Emma Carroll is a talented musician and utterly charismatic as young Lily, and Edward Way and Rosamund Hine make for exuberantly jolly farmers – but the performances are relentlessly, wearyingly upbeat.
Matt Jopling is properly off the wall as Lanky Len, one of the thieves intent on stealing the farm’s cow. Director Graham Hubbard choreographs the robbery scenes with real precision: every step is underpinned with zany sounds, as the thieves quietly stalk about Bek Palmer’s colourful cardboard cut-out set. It is one of the few moments that feels like more than just spectacle and Blue gets really involved, booing with all her might and angrily turning her thumbs down in disgust.
The wacky songs are composed by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw – of the fittingly entitled JollyGoodTunes – and are the heart and soul of the production. Every farm animal sound imaginable is incorporated into the music and, by the end, Blue is bopping along to every moo, bleat and quack.
The book’s illustrator, Lydia Monks, has consulted on the designs and the farm animals are reimagined with flair. In the best scene, the actors gather random props from the yard and create a parade of animals. A wooden broom transforms into a scampering puppy, a watering can is refashioned as a goose and, with a few clever tweaks, a bath, a bicycle and a little bit of rope are magically turned into a horse. It’s clever and sophisticated theatre, with real imagination, and a total delight to observe. And then – of course – the hearty clapping, stretched smiles and booming singing kick off once more.