The Ladybird Heard
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
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