'Fox' really is fantastic

PUBLISHED: 16:53 08 December 2008 | UPDATED: 13:09 11 August 2010

Bean, Boggis and Bunce alias Joseph Elliott, William Hazell and John Rayment

Bean, Boggis and Bunce alias Joseph Elliott, William Hazell and John Rayment

THE COMBINATION of Roald Dahl, David Wood, and Vernon Keeble Watson brought a touch of magic to the Brentwood Theatre this week, and there was hardly a behind you in sight. The Fantastic Mr Fox was Brentwood Theatre s nod to Christmas by not following

THE COMBINATION of Roald Dahl, David Wood, and Vernon Keeble Watson brought a touch of magic to the Brentwood Theatre this week, and there was hardly a 'behind you' in sight.

The Fantastic Mr Fox was Brentwood Theatre's nod to Christmas by not following the festive trend with a traditional pantomime like other theatres, but with a touching story by the master of children's storytelling.

With a strong cast of eight professional actors and director Vernon Keeble-Watson parachuting in, the investment for such a small theatre was formidable, and on the opening night, Saturday, the dividend to this courage was there for all to see.

Though many charming tales have come from the pen of Dahl, some of his subjects and the way he treats them have raised a few eyebrows where young minds are concerned.

But those eyebrows are usually from people who have forgotten their childhood.

In this play, the hero, Mr Fox saves the woodland from three really horrible farmers, Boggis, Bunce and Bean, and they were really horrible as well.

I could tell just how rotten this trio were, as my youngest granddaughter, Rebecca was rooting for them. A strange eight-year-old who lists King Rat in Aladdin, and the wicked fairy in Sleeping Beauty as her particular favourites, are now joined by Boggis, Bunce, and Bean.

This production is a remarkable combination, as producers, Mark Reed and David Zelly have skillfully combined Dahl and Wood, but added the skills of performer and director, Vernon to the pot.

Using his unusual gifts of providing entertainment as well as the unexpected, Mr Fox was unusually well suited to his talents, producing an incredibly well constructed show.

Casting from the professional field, the auditions were packed with more then 40 hopefuls, so the resulting eight had already faced a panel of Simon Cowells before they even opened the script.

For half of the cast it was their first professional appearance, but you would not have noticed as their professional strength showed with an immaculate production that reeked class.

Two of the newcomers certainly earned their spurs, Stephen Gunshon in the title role of Mr Fox, and former Brentwood Student and regular singer with Brentwood Operatic, Katie-Elizabeth Allgood as Baby Fox.

Stephen was commanding, and though I have not seen the play before, he was Mr Fox without any doubt. Cool and confident, his was a performance he should be very proud of.

Katie also was confident and charming, and with so many superb young characterisations built into her performance it was charming to watch.

Holding the play together as narrator, Kira Oliver made Mrs Badger her own.

A graduate from E15 Acting School, Kira told the story, and showing great maturity, pulled a few brilliant ad-lib rabbits out of the hat that gave the audience a good laugh.

The other fine performance, in fact remarkable is probably more fitting, was given by Katie-Anna Whiting who played the one brain cell Doris with such skill. The combination of timing, body language, facial expressions and speech made the part a joy to watch. To give you an idea how good she was, she got the lion's share of the laughter as well.

That leaves the three villains of the piece, William Hazell as Boggis, Joseph Elliott as Bunce and Brentwood's own John Rayment as Bean.

Collectively they played their characters with consummate skill, as it is so easy to get carried away being nasty. Crying children is not good for box office, but this trio actually had some cheering for them as they tried every conceivable move to rid their farms of Mr Fox.

And finally but certainly not last, was Deborah Luery playing Mrs Fox. This was also Deborah's professional debut and again, one to be proud of. Mrs Fox was very much the maternal rock and the foundation on which the family faced the onslaught of the farmers. Deborah played it so well and took her performance into the realms of a true comfort zone. You knew she was there, and though quietly in the background, would unleash a protective side if challenged. I have never seen that before and it had the effect of pulling my attention every few moments to check.

Overall a really remarkable show and one I would recommend. Being a children's play, it has the aura of the festive season, but unlike panto, the skill of the production is that there was nothing in the play that could possibly go over young heads.

This is charming and endearingly professional rich entertainment for the whole family.

The Fantastic Mr Fox runs until Tuesday, December 30 with tickets £12 still available from the box office on 01277 200305.

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