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Tall Stories' Adaptation Masterfully Transfers Donaldson’s Book to the Stage

Tall Stories are masters of forensically faithful Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler book adaptations, expertly stretching five-minute bedtime reads into hour-long spectacles, bursting with puppets, songs and interactive scripts.

The kids’ theatre company has been touring its stage version of The Gruffalo for more than 20 years - almost the age of the book itself - and after successful adaptations of Donaldson's The Gruffalo’s Child and The Snail and the Whale, they now bring The Smeds and the Smoos to London’s West End.

Director Toby Mitchell describes it as "Romeo and Juliet, but with aliens and a happy ending”. It tells the story of a pair of slightly gammony old aliens, who rule two, rival families: the red Smeds and the blue Smoos. They warn the younger, less judgmental aliens not to mix with the different coloured clans, who have strange cultures, like drinking pink milk or sleeping in beds. But Smoo Bill and Smed Janet fall in love, run away and the warring aliens become friends on their intergalactic quest to track the lovebirds down, finally finding their missing grandchildren along with a new, purple baby, which deepens their bond.

This adaptation creatively uses a cast of just four to tell the story - the Smeds are northern, the Smoos are cockney and the grandparent aliens (played by Andrea Sadler and Tom Capper) effortlessly bounce between grumpy elders and story narrators.

The set is simple, inventive and true to Scheffler’s eccentric and whimsical illustrations, with neon jerberrycoots, which open to release “jellyful fruits” and otherworldly plants or glittery rocks. The rocket during their space quest to retrieve the runaway Smeds and Smoos is deliciously cartoonish.

And the new worlds and alien species discovered on each planet kept children entranced, from the gloopy green alien - and the ensuing slapstick provided by his slime - the long-armed tickling creatures to the giant, Lurgle puppet, which saw the grandparents watering otherworldly plants - including delighted, soggy children in the audience - for it to sniff with its generous nose. Although the biggest hits were the flying and singing Gruffalo heads on the final planet, for an interactive sing-off.

The production is - quite rightly - targeted at young Donaldson fans, but the warring grandparents’ gradual acceptance and eventual love for one another is strangely moving. And parents are catered for in other ways, like the witty nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey in the intro.

The songs are faithful to the book’s tone and memorable enough for the children to screech on the train home.

And if your children like The Smeds and the Smoos - we challenge you to find a human under six who doesn’t - they will be over the squoon with this faithful, fun and colourful adaptation.

The Smeds and the Smoos, Lyric Theatre, 29 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 7ES.

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