If you’re reading this, chances are you have offspring under 10. Which means you need no introduction to Julia Donaldson CBE, she of Gruffalo fame and much feted doyen of children’s literature. You’ll probably also know of Zog (the dragon) which she wrote with long-time illustrator-collaborator Axel Scheffler back in 2010.
So, I’m guessing you just want to know one thing: is this production any good? For the time-poor among you, I’ll keep it short. Yes, it’s great. Get tickets. If you can spare another minute, I’ll dilate a little.
This production pulls on every theatrical lever to serve up a supremely fun and endearing tale of an accident-prone young dragon called Zog, who learns that the most important lesson in life is to have the courage of your convictions, do things because they feel right and not because they come with reward, and never be afraid to be different. Zog and friends are guided through the gamut of dragonly skills – fire breathing, flying, kidnapping princesses and fighting knights – by the matronly Madame Dragon. Zog fails pretty much across the board and Madame Dragon’s ‘gold stars’ remain elusively out of reach. But a higher reward awaits young Zog…
The highly talented cast of five prove themselves fantastic singers, dancers, puppeteers, musicians and – in a goofy, goonish way – comedic performers. Alongside the dragons there are rabbits, a frog, crows and a squirrel that ably assist in keeping the plot hurtling along. On the subject of plot, there are quite a few digressions and insertions on display in order to transform a 3-minute book into an hour long performance, but it rips along wonderfully, buoyed by the energy and talent of the cast, Mike Shepherd’s direction, Johnny Flynn’s original score, Katie Sykes’ stage design and Lyndie Wright’s hand-crafted puppets.
I’ll be honest, I’m 38 and this show isn’t aimed at me. The real litmus test is how it faired with the young audience. I can tell you that they were shouting out excitedly, keeping quiet for the songs, clapping on cue and generally laughing along and loving it. In our party we had an 18-month-old and a 5-year-old. Both lapped it up.
It’s a feelgood, fun production and a neat little parable about the importance of learning new things, taking risks, having the courage to both try and fail, and finding your own path. Ultimately, the unlikely friendship that develops between dragon Zog and princess Pearl is an apt reminder that we can all overcome difference, stereotypes, prejudice and societal expectations to make the world a better place. And that’s a rousing lesson whether you’re 8 or 38.
Zog played at the Royal Concert Hall on Tuesday 28 May 2019.