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  • Flora Gosling

Review: The Tiger Who Came to Tea (King's Theatre Glasgow)

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Utterly charming adaptation of a beloved picture book

Trying to fathom what a child wants to see is difficult when you’re a grown-up, but the bit that seems to trip up children’s theatre makers the most is knowing their age range. Aim too low for an older audience and they feel patronised, aim too high for a young audience and it will go over their wee heads. When Judith Kerr wrote The Tiger Who Came to Tea in 1968, the answer was to keep it simple, yet whimsical. What two to six-year-old child wouldn’t be enchanted by the idea of a tiger coming to tea, and politely proceeding to eat every morsel of food in the house?

Photo Credit: Robert Day

And it is hard to think of a two to six-year-old who wouldn’t be enchanted by this adaptation. Director and adaptor David Wood knows just what to include to engage young audiences, like the educational moments such as when the family count the hours on the clock. Children who know how to count and tell the time shout along enthusiastically, turning what could have been a dull lesson into a chance to show off what they already know. And it is far from the only time the children get a chance to participate – there is singing, dancing, and even pantomime He’s-behind-you moments. Most importantly, the tone of this participation creates an atmosphere that is tailor-made for this age group. If your child starts to shout, cry, or play, it will go completely unnoticed – there is room for that behaviour in this space, as there should be.

The tightly-knit cast all perform their springy, uncomplicated physical comedy in perfect harmony, so much so it would border on being uncanny and creepy if it wasn’t so charming. These are performers who seem wholly invested in entertaining the children. And as luck would have it they are all perfectly proportioned to play a family, especially Millie Robbins, who gives a wonderful performance as Sophie.

At only an hour long, The Tiger Who Came to Tea is remarkably loyal to its source material, right down to the stripes on the tiger’s belly. In total we get about 20 minutes of tiger action, which on its own is well worth the price of admission, but it is understandable when you hear little voices asking their parents when the tiger is coming back. Most of the time is spent with this family of three, who seem entirely untroubled by the cost-of-living crisis with a full fridge, a packed pantry, and a small feast laid out for afternoon tea. If there is something to be said about this slightly WASP-ish family, complete with a stay-at-home mother whose chief concern is preparing her husband’s dinner, it isn’t one worth lingering on. It is old-fashioned but inoffensive and much overshadowed by the uninhibited joy of the young audience. Capturing the quaintness of Kerr’s work is a challenge, especially to entertain a generation of children hardened by snappy and zany entertainment, but with The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Wood makes it look like a slice of cake. Four stars.

Whispers from the crowd: "It was great!!" "It was really well done, they really know the age group."

The Tiger Who Came to Tea will play at King's Theatre Glasgow until 22 February, then tour other theatres around the UK


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