Dr Seuss's The Lorax will be delighting new audiences and, hopefully, continuing to spread the word
How do you engage the next generation in a conversation about environmental issues that is becoming increasingly urgent? A story about a recognisable feature of their world is a good place to start. This is why the Lorax's rallying call of "I speak for the trees!" is something children can immediately see as relevant. And this is the heart of this entertaining and heart-warming children's musical.
Adapted from Dr Seuss's original book by award-winning playwright David Greig, and with music and lyrics by former Noah and the Whale frontman Charlie Fink, the Old Vic's The Lorax takes Dr Seuss's prescient story for children and creates energetic, visually exciting and beautifully produced theatre that has its young audience captivated from the start.
Animal and human inhabitants
Starring the irrepressible, moustachioed Lorax (ingeniously manipulated by three puppeteers) whose commitment to the beautiful environment where he lives is pitted against the Once-ler's desire to impress his family, contriving fame and fortune via the destruction of the same trees that the Lorax seeks to protect.
Simon Paisley Day's axe-wielding Once-ler is by turn laconic, naïve and dastardly, a good match for the lovable, quirky Lorax, voiced and animated by David Ricardo-Pearce, assisted by puppeteers Laura Caldow and Ben Thompson, and completely convincing in its characterisation.
Keeping to Seuss's rhyming text, the ingenious play on words to amuse both children and their accompanying adults alike even has a few contemporary references (Trump, anyone?) cunningly thrown in.
Beautifully designed by Rob Howell, the imaginative staging of the show with its instantly recognisable, Seuss-referenced sets, complements the talents of the cast and musicians, with lots of exuberant, imaginative choreography and songs that range from ballad to jazz.
At its heart, this is something of a dark tale of corporate greed and the production of a worthless item which saps the natural resources of a paradise of clean air and fresh water, until the toxicity of the spoiled environment begins to show an impact on both its animal and human inhabitants.
A whole awful lot
At its heart, too, this rollicking family showalso has a message of hope. We can all be Loraxes; we can all "speak for the trees" and stand against the destruction of our planet.
In an excellent feature written for the show's programme, Leo Hickman, editor of CarbonBrief, writes, "Dr Seuss absorbed all the key environmental talking points of the day [...] and joyously found a way to construct for his readers a beguiling, insightful mirror on our world and its ways.
"He even found a way to gently chide the often preaching manner of the environmentalists when the Once-ler describes the Lorax as ‘sharpish and bossy'. There are lessons for us all on every page."
The theatre is also actively embracing some of these lessons, by issuing e-tickets and encouraging ticketholders not to print them off, but let front-of-house staff scan their phones instead.
This is in an effort to become 90 percent paperless by the theatre's 200th birthday in May 2018 and, along with a number of other measures including using a completely sustainable energy supplier, Good Energy, recycling all paper, glass, plastic and other items, using VegWare for any take-away items in the all-day café, providing programmes in pdf format and advising audiences on public transport, the theatre is making a concerted effort to become more green. An effort that is embodied in the Lorax's key message:"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot/Nothing is going to get better. It's not."
It's good to see a public venue make this wholehearted commitment to a green agenda and, during the play's run, renowned ethologist and conservationist Dr Jane Goodall also gave a live audience at the theatre, discussing her global youth programme Roots & Shoots.
Active in nearly 100 countries, Roots & Shoots is an education programme supporting children to implement practical, positive change for people, animals and the environment by providing teachers with free resources and activities.
I feel sure Seuss would have applauded all this. His children's book, with its straightforward message delivered by the Lorax, was originally published in 1971, a year after the first Earth Day in April 1970 which had brought focus to an emerging global environmental movement that saw the formation of organisations like Greenpeace, the National Resources Defense Council and the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Very much a product of its time at the beginning of the 1970s, some 20 years later Seuss said about the book that it "...came out of me being angry. In The Lorax I was out to attack what I think are evil things and let the chips fall where they might." The only alarm is that, 40 years later, we have even more reason to address these issues not less.
So the chips must continually be made to fall and, having been revived for this short run in London, this production of Dr Seuss's The Lorax will be travelling to Toronto for a Christmas run from December 9th, and then Minnesota in April 2018.
It will be delighting new audiences and, hopefully, continuing to spread the word that the beautiful and precious environment on which we all depend must be continually protected for future generations of children.
Harriet Griffey is cultural editor of The Ecologist.