REVIEW: What the Ladybird Heard (Palace Theatre)

With the summer holidays just around the corner, the stage adaptation of the Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks picture book What the Ladybird Heard has just flown into the West End for a summer stint ahead of a UK tour. We were lucky enough to be invited along to their press performance this weekend, so Mummy and Quaver headed to the Palace Theatre for some farmyard fun

Like many other families, we have a house full of Julia Donaldson picture books. (Mummy would quite like to be Julia Donaldson when she grows up.) Although the munchkins have now moved onto chapter books, What the Ladybird Heard used to be Quaver’s most requested bedtime book. She was really looking forward to seeing the stage adaptation and judging by the atmosphere at the Palace Theatre, she definitely wasn’t alone! It was lovely to be back in an auditorium full of excited little faces. Bonus points go to the little girl in front of us dressed in full ladybird attire. And to the man who (we assume) didn’t attend the show but nonetheless felt compelled to take a picture of his miniature schnauzer in the balloon arch outside the theatre. We don’t have a picture of ladybird child but we do have one of the dog! You’re welcome….

The show itself was great fun. It feels very true to the original picture book, with familiar imagery and recognisable rhymes, spun out nicely into a 55 minute show with plenty in it to keep everyone (including the adults) entertained. Little ones were enthralled by the way the ladybird appeared, with audible gasps every time she popped into view. Quaver particularly liked the way that some of the farmyard animals were created out of everyday objects, commenting that the show was even better than she expected because it wasn’t just normal puppets (although there are a few of those too). She also absolutely loved the way that Lanky Len was played by an inept but enthusiastic “usher” named Raymond (James Mateo-Salt), who was apparently plucked from the auditorium and thrown into the limelight. This was a fun way of injecting some comedy into the show and was very well received by the audience. There was also plenty of natural audience participation, with lots of booing at Hefty Hugh (Matthew McPherson) and Lanky Len, who make a great pair of comedy villains, particularly in their big song and dance number. All the songs are fun and catchy, with a singalong at the end giving the audience another opportunity to get involved in the action before leaving with big grins on their faces.

Roddy Lynch, Matthew McPherson, James Mateo-Salt and Nikita Johal in What the Ladybird Heard. Credit: David Monteith-Hodge – Phographise

We would highly recommend What the Ladybird Heard for fans of the picture book and anyone else looking to take their little one to see a show this summer. Filled with live music, laughter and just a few surprises, it’s a perfect introduction to theatre for early years children while also getting the seal of approval from our almost 8 year old (who has seen more than her fair share of West End musicals and will quite happily tell you if she thinks a children’s show is boring!)

What the Ladybird Heard plays at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue from 15 July to 29 August 2021 ahead of a UK tour. We received complimentary tickets to the press performance on Saturday 17 July.