Is producing a stage adaptation of a Julia Donaldson book an open goal? Audiences are sure to love the characters already; they probably know the stories by heart. Then again, her books are popular for a reason – so how do you retain their charm and appeal in an altogether different medium? This question was put to the test this weekend at Eden Court, as Zog – a young dragon in training – hopes to be top in in the class.
In recent years, Donaldson’s tales have become the fodder of many a cross-generational family Christmas viewing as her back catalogue gets steadily immortalised in annual TV specials. These have included The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, and (most recently) Zog. Fresh from his terrestrial television debut, the likeable dragon now steps onto the stage in a spirited attempt at realising his ambitions to fly, roar and breathe fire.
Alongside his fellow dragons and forest friends, this kind-hearted retelling utilises the skills of a game cast, all of whom are adept at switching between acting, puppetry and picking up the closest instrument for a quick hoedown. Johnny Flynn’s specially written folk score and lyrics proves a suitable pairing, lending the performance a rustic balladry that feels fresh to the source material but fitting nonetheless.
A new kind of Zog emerges, one less tied to the twists and turns of Donaldson’s tightly plotted story and more content to bum about Madam’s Dragon school knocking out some folk tunes every now and then. This subtle step away from the plot of the book means the 55-minute runtime feels a little saggy in places. Of course, a 36 year-old man is not the target demographic here. For balance, I brought my five year old son, who loved the ‘call and response’ aspect, was unfazed by the changes to the plot and welcomed the addition of a few fart jokes. Actually, we both did.