It just wouldn’t be Christmas without another celebrity children’s book adaptation for the stage. Some projects feel a tad cynical but The Bolds, based onJulian Clary’s popular series, isn’t a bad bet. It’s a quirky story about a family of hyenas who escape a national park in Africa and wind up living as humans in a semi-detached in Teddington. There’s plenty of fun physical comedy, endless jokes (Mr Bold writes them for a living) and – thanks to the hyenas – lots of laughter.
Director Lee Lyford conjures up a likable family, led by the Del Boy-esque Mr Bold (David Ahmad) and a pleasingly non-mumsy Mrs Bold (Amanda Gordon). A pack of screeching creatures could have been hard work but there’s lots of warmth and affection here, among the family members – but also in the kindness the Bolds show to young Minnie and surly Scottish neighbour Mr McNumpty (a wonderfully hammy Sam Pay).
The show hums with an easy sense of playfulness, with the young audience happily shouting out comments and warnings as the adventure unfolds. Mae Munuo and Sam Swann scamper tirelessly about the stage as young Betty and Bobby Bold, munching on pens, papers and chairs, rubbing their bottoms on props and, of course, rolling about on the floor with laughter.
James Button’s vibrant set, splashed in bold prints, has a slapdash dynamism to it. When the Bolds visit a safari park in an attempt to get back to their “animal roots”, they scoot about in a cleverly designed car, which seems to glide about the stage with miraculously little effort (but is propelled by the actors’ furiously pedalling feet).
It’s all very jolly but the energy eventually lags. Running at two hours, Clary’s script is far too long and a bit shapeless. The songs, penned by Clary and Simon Wallace, are written in an unforgivingly low register and don’t feel entirely necessary – but are just about rescued by a delightfully daft duet in the closing stages, infused with a music-hall sense of mischief.
At the Unicorn theatre, London, until 31 December