Review: English Touring Opera. Fantastic Mr Fox, Snape Maltings, April 17

ETO’s new production of Fantastic Mr Fox, based on Roald Dahl’s children’s story, with music by Tobias Picker and libretto by Donald Sturrock, is the first since the original, staged in Los Angeles in 1998. Designed as a family opera, each touring venue features 21 local schoolchildren who play the fox cubs and trees, thus virtually guaranteeing an audience fairly equally balanced between adults and children.

This was certainly the case at Snape Maltings on Sunday, where director Tim Yelland’s productin had a great reception.

Picker makes heavy demands on his singers, who, in the first half ensembles had to work hard to make themselves heard above the somewhat unsympathetic scoring, yet his vocal writing ensures each character is brought vividly to life. Nicholas Merryweather is a splendid Mr Fox, there is fine characterful singing from Henry Grant Kerswell, Mark Wilde and Maciek O’ Shea as the three nasty farmers, Boggis , Bunce and Bean and splendid vocal histrionics from the superb Fiona Kimm as Agnes the Digger. Musically, the second act is better, its high point being Rita Rat’s aria, a tour de force from Caryl Hughes.

The show moves at a fast pace, and movement director Liam Steel obviously had great rapport with the children of Laxfield All Saints Primary School, who were absolutely terrific. Great entertainment, a measure of its success being the rapt attention of an audience, almost half of whom must have been young children.

Frank Cliff

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