Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Interview with Tom Crook - Gruffalo man!

THERE can't be many parents of pre-schoolers who are not familiar with The Gruffalo.
Written by award-winning author Julia Donaldson in 1999, and with the now familiar illustrations of Axel Scheffler, the delightful tale of the brave and wily mouse who meets the unassuming monster in the deep dark wood has sold millions of copies around the world, spawned the sequel, The Gruffalo's Child, and was even adapted into a film shown on the BBC in 2009.
For those who may not have come across it, it is the story of a mouse who takes a walk through the woods one day and comes across three of his natural predators.
By sheer cunning he manages one by one to convince them not to eat him and instead to worry about the Gruffalo, a creature with, amongst other things, terrible teeth in his terrible jaws, prickles all over his back and a poisonous wart at the end of his nose, and who is partial to roasted fox, owl ice cream and scrambled snake.
It is currently the subject of a stage play, now on at the Lyric Theatre in the West End and starring Streatham-based actor Tom Crook in the title roll.
For the 31-year-old it is a dream job, despite the costume which he admits is not designed for non air-conditioned theatres.
"It's an amazing show. The reaction we've had so far has been fantastic and I'm having such a blast doing it but the costume makes me get very hot and sweaty," he laughs cheerfully. "It's like a boiler suit of fur."
He has joined the show after a successful UK tour in The Gruffalo's Child.
"Julia Donaldson's stories are beautifully written and are now considered modern classics," he says.
"I leapt at the chance to be in both shows because the characters are so well known and described so well in the books and kids love them.
"We get lots of audience participation as you can imagine which is fantastic. Kids are the best audience," he adds.
"They don't sit politely, they are with us the whole way through the show, laughing, singing, shouting, up on their feet, pointing and just having the best time - which is just as it should be. It's brilliant."
The show is about an hour long and has enabled the creative team to "flesh out" the story and its characters as well as introduce some music and songs.
"There are only about 80 lines in the book so it's given us a chance to think about what the animals would look, talk and act like if they were human which has been fun," says Tom.
"The snake is slinky, a good mover and quite vain! The Owl is quite stuffy and rigid so we've created him as a world war fighter pilot and the fox is a country squire.
"It's really brought them to life and the audience gets to see them for a bit longer than they appear in the book.
"The kids love it though - but woe betide any of us who says the wrong word or in the wrong order," he chuckles. "They know the story so well they can recite it perfectly and are not afraid to tell us if we've got it wrong. It's fantastic.
"But it just shows the brilliance of the book - the fact that children have taken to it in the way they have."
The show runs until mid January before it goes on another tour so Tom will be wearing his costume a while yet.
"We are taking it to Hong Kong and Singapore for a children's festival there which will be fun though it will mean wearing the fur a bit longer.
"It makes you realise how many theatres aren't air conditioned and just concrete boxes with lights."
And then it will be back home to Streatham where he's lived for the past three years.
"It's the longest time I've lived anywhere in London and I love it," he enthuses. "People give it a bad press but I think it's very unfair.
"It's got great transport links - fantastic for getting to the West End when I'm working there - and loads of great shops and caf├ęs.
"It has a real proper community feel to it and is really vibrant - what's not to love!"

The Gruffalo is on at the Lyric until Sunday, January 12. Tickets cost from £14. Call the box office on 0844 482 9674  

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