Abbey Norman (Sophie), Benjamin Wells (Tiger) & Jenanne Redman (Mummy)
Magical nonagenarian Judith Kerr is more familiar than ever this Christmas thanks to JS Sainsbury. And, the book which is arguably her most famous, is now enchanting the second and third generations. In fact it has passed deep into the culture of many families, including mine. No wonder David Wood’s stage adaptation of it has been going strong all over the world since 2008.
And how well David Wood knows his craft. The Tiger Who Came to Tea is a one-sentence story which succeeds on its surreal simplicity. He builds it into 45 minutes of theatre which engages every child (and adult) in the house. Yes, he pads it with songs and suspense (the eventual arrival of the Tiger isn’t exactly a surprise after all) and a bit of gentle interaction. But the padding is such high quality and sits so well alongside the basic story that, as a piece, it’s totally coherent. And he capitalises on the certainty that most audience members will be familiar with many of Kerr’s words so they’re delivered with that twinkling expectation.
It’s never easy for adults to play children convincingly but Abbey Norman, who is very small in build, gets the right blend of wide-eyed innocence, confidence and fun. Jenanne Redman, who has played this part before is suitably rueful, enthusiastic and motherly as Mummy. And Benjamin Wells is good value as the rather goofy Daddy (nice silent physical theatre sequence as he gets ready for work), the silly milkman and daft postman. The tiger – also Benjamin Wells for its main appearance – is a delight. He communicates in gestures and is charming and polite, notwithstanding his famous hunger and thirst. It’s quite an achievement to dance so nimbly inside that suit too.
I saw this show as a solitary adult. Around me the full theatre was heaving with enchanted children, some under two. Any show which can do that gets my vote.