Tag Archives: Julia Donaldson

The Ladybird Heard


Palace Theatre

The Ladybird Heard

Palace Theatre

Reviewed – 17th July 2021



“a pleasurable distraction during the dog days of summer”


It’s school holidays again, and despite the pandemic, it’s the time of year when parents look around for something to do with the kids. This year, producers Kenny Wax and Matthew Gregory have answered the parental call for help with What the Ladybird Heard. The sixty minute show, now showing at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End, is based on the best selling children’s book by Julia Donaldson (story) and Lydia Monks (pictures). It’s about the right length for the kindergartner and primary school set. Bringing this well loved character and her farmyard friends to the stage is a shrewd move on Wax and Gregory’s part. What the Ladybird Heard is perfect summer material to welcome the winter pantomime and Christmas audiences back into the theatre. The cast of four (with a last minute appearance of the ASM as a policeman) has an easy and skilled connection with the audience. It’s a pleasure to watch them show off their acting, dancing and musical abilities.

That said, if there is one weakness, it is the way the story has been dramatized. There are lots of engaging touches, including the set, designed by Bek Palmer, and based on Lydia Monks’ pictures from the book. The way in which the animals are created by the actors from bits and pieces scattered randomly around is fun to watch. The fourth member of the cast, farmhand Raymond (doubling as the dastardly burglar Lanky Len), appears to be an usher randomly recruited from the auditorium, much to the audience’s delight. The songs, composed by Jolly Good Tunes, are just that. And Howard Jacques has an abundance of nice lines in his lyrics. Nevertheless, What the Ladybird Heard is, at its heart, a story about stopping a crime. The Ladybird, with her farmyard helpers, has to stop the Farmer’s prizewinning cow from being stolen by a couple of thieves. It’s a dramatic situation, with the right amount of suspense for a satisfying denouément. But the plot takes a while to get going. There’s a lot of business about introducing the story, instead of just plunging straight in. It’s also unclear whether this is going to be a new story about the Ladybird, or just a rehash of the first story in the series. There is a strong feeling that there isn’t really enough material in the book to fill sixty minutes of stage time, even with all the singing, dancing and audience participation.

Ultimately, What the Ladybird Heard works because of its cast. Director Graham Hubbard makes the most of the talents of Roddy Lynch (Farmer), Nikita Johal (Lily/Ladybird), Matthew McPherson (Hefty Hugh) and James Mateo-Salt (Lanky Len), and the team does not disappoint. From building puppets to playing musical instruments, singing and dancing, the actors are up for any challenge, and that includes managing the audience. They are particularly adept at handling the show’s educational aspect, which is all about identifying the animals and pairing them up with the appropriate animal sound—crucial to the plot. The actors also work hard at helping the audience spot the ladybird, who is as thrifty in her appearances, as she is in her words.

If you are looking for a pleasurable distraction during the dog days of summer, take your kids (or someone else’s) to What the Ladybird Heard. The Palace Theatre staff are well organized for a visit to the theatre, and that includes the hardworking front of house team who are doing their best to manage social distancing and good hygiene practices, both inside and outside the theatre.


Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by David Monteith-Hodge 


The Ladybird Heard

Palace Theatre until 29th August then UK tour continues. Details whattheladybirdheardlive.co.uk


Recently reviewed by Dominica:
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice | ★★★ | Online | February 2021
Adventurous | ★★½ | Online | March 2021
Tarantula | ★★★★ | Online | April 2021
Stags | ★★★★ | Network Theatre | May 2021
Overflow | ★★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | May 2021
L’Egisto | ★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | June 2021
Doctor Who Time Fracture | ★★★★ | Unit HQ | June 2021
In My Own Footsteps | ★★★★★ | Book Review | June 2021
Wild Card | ★★★★ | Sadler’s Wells Theatre | June 2021
Luck be a Lady | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | June 2021
Starting Here, Starting Now | ★★★★★ | Waterloo East Theatre | July 2021


Click here to see our most recent reviews


Stick Man – 3.5 Stars

Stick Man

Leicester Square Theatre

Reviewed – 21st October 2018


“the whole cast consistently kept a sparky energy and played well to the audience”


Stick Man, one of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s many much-loved children stories, is now enjoying a stage adaptation by Freckle Productions, in a show that lifts the charm and appeal off the page and delivers it to families across a sizzling forty five minute romp.

The plot sees the titular Stick Man (Jack Benjamin) taken on a perilous adventure after being swept away from his stick family by a dog (Kate Malyon, also playing everything from a swan to a very aggressive schoolgirl) during a jog in the park; he keeps getting used and abused in different scenarios until he ends up in need of some serious help to be reunited with stick wife and children. Euan Wilson rounds out the cast, chiefly providing music (composed by Benji Bower) on all manner of instruments that provides a gleeful timbre to the action on stage. The interplay between Wilson on the saxophone and Malyon’s swan was particularly enjoyable, although the whole cast consistently kept a sparky energy and played well to the audience.

Stick Man employs a number of everyday objects in its design (Katie Skyes) that allows for the cast and director Mark Kane to let them ooze creativity when used in performance, such as a roll of blue wallpaper wrapped between two cast members acting as a river, or using umbrellas to depict a raging ocean. The results are visually delectable, and keep the audience constantly engaged as to what innovative use of regular paraphernalia will be utilised next.

The style of the show takes a number of cues from pantomime, featuring a chase through the audience, a game of catch with a beach ball, and – yes – even a ‘they’re behind you’ moment. This works wonders to invite the audience into the story, and it is telling that the sections which did not feature any participation are the ones where the audience grew restless, giving the feeling that Stick Man should have embraced a few more opportunities to include the audience.

The source material has some issues if you’re looking closely, such as that the entire journey Stick Man goes on doesn’t see him learn anything or change, and there’s no especially interesting lesson to take from the story. Crucially, however, by and large the children adored it, and were uncontainably engrossed by the show’s end. Parents looking for an alternative to the usual panto this Christmas will find a lot on offer here.

Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by Paul Blakemore


Leicester Theatre

Stick Man

Leicester Square Theatre until 6th January


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Murder, She Didn’t Write | ★★★ | February 2018
Sh*t-faced Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice | ★★★★ | April 2018
Sh*t-faced Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet | ★★★★ | June 2018
Murder She Didn’t Write | ★★★★ | September 2018
Sh*t-faced Showtime: Oliver With a Twist! | ★★★ | September 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com