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REVIEW: The Tiger Who Came to Tea, at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, Friday




The Judith Kerr book this show is based on is a much-loved bedtime feature in our home.

My three-year-old is fascinated by the concept of a tiger visiting for tea ("It can't be a REAL tiger," she often says), while I look at the original artwork and it transports me to my own childhood and the familiar fashions and home interiors of the era.

So, it was with much anticipation we visited the Theatre Royal to see the stage adaptation. Clara was keen to see if the tiger was real or not. I was interested to see how a 10-minute story would be stretched into an entire performance.

The Tiger who came to tea. Picture by Robert Day. (20325510)
The Tiger who came to tea. Picture by Robert Day. (20325510)

The set looked just the ticket as we waited for the show to start, with the famous kitchen recreated in true 1960s/70s style.

When the cast bounded on to stage (with the bouncy energy only children's performers seem to possess) Clara immediately knew they were Mummy, Daddy and Sophie. And she immediately wanted to know when the tiger was coming to tea.

Unfortunately, before the tiger could actually come for tea Daddy had to go to work, the milkman paid a visit and the postman popped round. Every scene was infused with stylish slapstick perfectly pitched at the audience.

While Daddy failed to catch his toast as it flew out of the toaster, the milkman was spot-on with his hilarious salesman techniques ("Oh, but I don't sell milk!"). And all the while, Mummy and Sophie charted the passage of time with a clever 'ticktock' routine, changing the time on the kitchen clock until – finally – it was teatime.

Suddenly there was a ring at the door. Sophie's mummy said: "I wonder who that could be?" and so ensued an amusing sequence of hide and seek with the friendly tiger.

Unlike the book, this tiger was mute (meaning I never got to hear him speak my favourite line: "Thank you for my nice tea"). However, he was an expert mime artist, with every emotion and intention conveyed through a clever flick of his long tiger tail or an elegant bow.

Clara was delighted, along with every other child in the packed house. Soon she was up on her feet for a spot of 'tigerobics' (another addition to the book) and waving goodbye as the tiger left the house, never to return.

Alas, her interest faded after this point and the production was probably 10 minutes too long, with the walk to a café scene padded out on stage with a superfluous car sequence.

Just when unrest across the audience was increasing (attention spans of pre-schoolers are limited) the cast sang a song and it was all over.

The smiles of enjoyment and relief were universal. This slick and entertaining production had plenty of character for all ages, but let's not forget that the star of the show will always be the tiger. I think everyone could have done with seeing him a little bit more.



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