During the interval of The Lorax, Dr Seuss’s cautionary tale about the dangers of environmental destruction, I received a notification on my phone: “UK government approves fracking in national parks”, and I thought “I really hope all the kids in the audience are paying attention, because my generation seems to have forgotten the Lorax’s wise words.”
The Old Vic’s riotous production starts off fairly true to the original verse, with a mad old Once-ler lowering his Whisper-ma-Phone to tell a passing traveller how he cut down the magnificent truffula trees to make Thneeds, driving out the Brown Bar-ba-loots in their Bar-ba-loot suits. It then fleshes out the Once-ler, a poor kid who makes his fortune selling Thneeds (“a Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need! It’s a shirt. It’s a sock. It’s a glove, It’s a hat. But it has other uses. Yes, far beyond that.”). But he gets greedy, breaking his pact with a forest guardian called the Lorax and chopping down all of the trees, leaving nothing but a sad, smoggy swamp.
The scenes set in the idyllic forest give you a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, filled with multi-coloured trees and dancing fish and huge Swomee-Swans attached to fishing rods that swoop over the heads of the audience. Most impressive of all is the Lorax himself, a stern, portly character controlled by three puppeteers who breathe life into his every step and snuffle.
The second half takes the majority of the liberties with the material, imagining entirely new sequences, all, of course, written in the style of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s serpentine verse. For the most part, they’re a huge success: a factory visit by a Scottish TV reporter channelling Kay Burley, who threatens to splash “sad farting bears all across social media”, is as sharp as it is funny, while a musical piece about Thneed 2.0, which takes the form of a fashion show set to happy hardcore music, is brilliant fun.
Writer David Greig and director Max Webster pitch the production just right: it’s loud and bright and silly enough to keep the kids happy, but there are plenty of jokes about lawyers and politicians and the internet to please their parents, too.
And I’m happy to admit – for there is no disgrace – that when the Lorax returned, I had tears down my face.