The Scarecrows’ Wedding, Leicester Square Theatre, London ★★★★

Reviewed for The Reviews Hub:

Scamp Theatre has acquired a reputation for adapting the children’s books by Julia Donaldson, their production of Stick Man playing at the Leicester Square Theatre for five Christmas seasons. Their latest show, The Scarecrows’ Wedding, is a welcome addition to the canon, creating a playful and delightful tale.

The story revolves around scarecrows Harry O’Hay and Betty O’Barley, who fall in love and decide upon a list of items that will make their wedding complete. As Harry sets out to find some pink flowers, the farmer replaces him with French scarecrow Reginald Rake, who makes his own attempt to woo Betty.

Donaldson’s short books never carry much in the way of true peril, their delight coming in their rhymes and the accompanying illustrations (often, as is the case with The Scarecrow’s Wedding, by long time collaborator Axel Scheffler). Here, James Button’s set and designs fulfil the same duties as Scheffler’s drawings, providing some visual treats as everyday items are transformed into farm animals. Socks placed on hands become geese, black gloves on sticks become crows, while the farmer’s armchair doubles as a car. Most effective is a row of cowbells strung across the stage, Michael Palmer’s Farmer standing behind each to portray an individual cow, encouraging the audience to join in with moo-ing.

That piece of audience participation goes down so well that it’s a shame that there’s not more along those lines. But there’s still plenty to enjoy, with Matthew Hamper’s Harry and Lucy Wells’s Betty having a charming innocence about them which is delightful to watch. All three performers also play and sing a range of folk songs by Darren Clark, each of which has lyrics in keeping with the simplicity of Donaldson’s rhymes, but which are strong songs in their own right.

Scamp Theatre clearly has worked hard on imbuing the spirit of Julia Donaldson into their adaptation of her works. It’s clear that The Scarecrows’ Wedding is as deserved a hit with its young audience as its previous shows.

Runs until September 4.