REVIEW: The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse, a Unicorn and New Perspectives Production (Unicorn Theatre)

This is a review of the 2019 production. The show is back at the Unicorn Theatre for Winter 2023 with a shiny new cast

Here at the Family Stage we are big fans of Jon Klassen (the author and illustrator of subversive picture books that are just as much fun for grown-ups as they are for children). We are also no strangers to the Unicorn Theatre. So when we heard that the Unicorn was putting on a production of a Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen book for ages 3-7 this Christmas, it went straight to the top of our festive show wishlist. Even if, as per usual, this happened to be a book that we haven’t actually read!

The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse tells the tale of Mouse (Varun Raj) who meets his maker in the form of a hungry wolf (Catherine Whitefield), only to discover that things aren’t quite as bad in her belly as he might have believed. In fact, it’s positively cosy down there. As Duck (Sam Buttery), who has already taken up residence in Wolf’s warm tummy, will attest. There’s plenty of food and absolutely no predators. It is a bit lonely though, so the initially dismissive Duck agrees to share his abdominal abode. Soon the pair of them are having a splendid time, dining like kings and dancing like no-one is watching. Except some hunters are watching wolf very carefully. After a close encounter that leaves them fearful for their lives, can Duck and Mouse hatch a cunning plan to save their stomach?

Jack McNamara’s adaptation is wickedly entertaining, cleverly capturing Barnett and Klassen’s dark humour and spinning out the short story into a full 50 minute show. Amelia Jane Hankin’s design brings the picture-book pages to life on a set that neatly doubles as both the wolf’s surroundings and insides, while Arun Ghosh’s sound design adds to the atmosphere and helps drive the narrative. Raj and Buttery play multiple roles, switching between Duck and Mouse, the trees and owl narrating the story, and the cowardly, chocolate-chomping hunters. Both are impressive in every role they play, although Buttery just about steals the show as the flamboyant, flipper-clad, dancing Duck. Whitefield is expressive and sufficiently sinister as Wolf, without being so menacing as to scare the smaller audience members. Unfortunately a leg injury meant she was forced to perform from a sedentary position when we saw the show, but this didn’t affect our enjoyment.

Like Anansi The Spider before it, this production has something for everyone within the quite difficult 3-7 bracket. It doesn’t talk down to its young audience, nor does it ignore the adults. In fact, Mummy probably appreciated it more than the munchkins, which is a feature of all the Jon Klassen stories that she begs them to let her read at bedtime! Although some of the script is aimed more at the top end of the age range (including the adults), there is plenty of physical comedy to keep the smaller, wrigglier children entertained too. Scary moments are short-lived and quickly offset by lighter interludes.

The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse is another triumph for Justin Audibert’s first full season as Artistic Director at The Unicorn Theatre. It would be all too easy to put on something glittery and twee for the festive season, especially for this age group. But as with The Canterville Ghost (the Unicorn’s Christmas production for ages 7+ ), The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse offers a deliciously dark alternative for families. And for that, Mummy awards it a rating of Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles and Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things).

The Wolf, The Duck and The Mouse played at the Unicorn Theatre from 15 November 2019 to 5 January 2020. We paid for our own tickets to this show.