The Enormous Crocodile: The Musical | Live Show Review

Ruth Deller
Thursday, March 28, 2024

This is a charming production with a fantastic cast, some beautiful sets and a gloriously camp villain who children will love as much as loathe

The Enormous Crocodile: The Musical  (photography: Manuel Harlan)
The Enormous Crocodile: The Musical (photography: Manuel Harlan)

Roald Dahl’s The Enormous Crocodile was his only book aimed at very young children, and in some ways it’s a surprise it hasn’t been made into a musical before as there are some perfectly theatrical ingredients here: a big bold villain, some plucky heroes, a lush jungle setting and the mix of comedy and peril that typifies Dahl’s work.

For those unfamiliar with the source material, it takes place in a jungle where an enormous crocodile (played by Elliotte Williams-N’Dure sitting astride a large, wheeled puppet) tells the other jungle creatures he is hungry – so hungry that only a child (or two, or three, or 10) will sate his appetite. When a party of children wander off from their teacher on a trip (a slight deviation from the book), animals and children have to work together to outwit the rampaging reptile.

The plot is largely faithful to the original, though it omits a couple of the croc’s more elaborate schemes, presumably a combination of them being difficult to stage (such as him hiding on a fairground carousel) and needing to keep things to the 55-minute run-time.

The small cast each takes on multiple roles and perform with a glorious energy that connects well with the audience. There is a lot of (often complex) puppet work, and it all runs seamlessly with a few fun set-pieces. Each character is clearly defined, with the expressive animals being highlights – performers, costumes and puppets combine to create their vivid personalities.

Williams-N’Dure pitches the villainous crocodile perfectly – of course his schemes are horribly wicked, but there’s such a charming glint that you kind of root for him to succeed as much as to fail. He’s not a terrifying menace, but one we can laugh at and, often, with.

Fly Davis’s set could be straight out of a picture book, with lovingly painted jungle scenery and lots of clever moving parts meaning set changes are achieved very quickly. The crocodile’s schemes are well staged and feel very true to the source material. There’s plenty of humour to be had with the visuals, such as the puppet child bodies worn around the adult actors’ necks when playing the naughty kids.

Although this is billed as a musical, the songs are secondary to the dialogue and action. They’re catchy and well-performed but, at my performance, there were times that the backing music was very loud and, especially when multiple performers were singing different parts, it could be hard to make out the lyrics. This seems particularly unfortunate when the audience is largely young children trying to follow what’s happening. Even though it’s a short production, one or two more musical numbers wouldn’t go amiss as there’s quite a bit of repetition. More audience singalongs might have helped it feel more participatory – the one that’s there works well, but comes right at the end of the show.

In fact, overall, the audience interaction could be better thought through. Much of it is concentrated in the second half, meaning the crowd needs more warming up to the idea of participation than if it had started earlier. The pre-show sets the expectations there might be quite a lot of exchange between performers and audience, then the first half suggests maybe there won’t be much at all – the balance doesn’t quite feel right. A little more back and forth in the first half might be a better way of welcoming onlookers into Dahl’s world.

On balance, though, this is a charming production with a fantastic cast, some beautiful sets and a gloriously camp villain who children will love as much as loathe. The production will transfer to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in the summer – if you have young children (especially three- to eight-year-olds) this is a fun introduction to theatre… Just watch out for them being inspired by Croc to come up with their own ‘secret plans and clever tricks’!

Production credits

Cast Elliotte Williams-N’Dure, Charis Alexandra, Lawrence Hodgson-Mullings, Philippa Hogg, Robyn Sinclair, Laura Buhagiar

Direction Emily Lim

Co-direction, puppetry design Toby Olié

Associate direction Tash Holway

Musical direction Màth Roberts

Musical supervision, arrangements, orchestrations Tom Brady

Choreography Viki Igbokwe-Ozoagu

Set, costumes Fly Davis

Lighting Jessica Hung Han Yun

Sound Tom Gibbons

Producers Leeds Playhouse, Roald Dahl Story Company, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Ahmed Abdullahi Gallab music

Suhayla El-Bushra lyrics, book

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2024 issue of Musicals magazine. Never miss an issue – subscribe today