The Gruffalo

Clarence Street Theatre, Hamilton

13/09/2010 - 13/09/2010

TSB Showplace, New Plymouth

06/09/2010 - 06/09/2010

Bruce Mason Centre, Auckland

10/09/2010 - 11/09/2010

Vodafone Events Centre, Manukau, Auckland

15/09/2010 - 16/09/2010

Baycourt - Addison Theatre, Tauranga

08/09/2010 - 08/09/2010

Opera House, Wellington

04/09/2010 - 04/09/2010

Production Details

“This whimsical, imaginative show is pitched at just the right level … clever storytelling … enchanting characterisation … a rare treat that really is for all the family” – The Scotsman

The West End production of the monster hit children’s tale The Gruffalo comes to New Zealand for very limited seasons in September.

Whether their favourite food is roasted fox, owl ice cream, scrambled snake or Gruffalo crumble, audiences eat up this delectable tale about the adventures of a clever little mouse in a forest full of predators.

The Gruffalo opens at the
Opera House, Wellington on Saturday 4 September for three shows only,
before heading to the
TSB Showplace in New Plymouth on Monday 6 September,
Tauranga’s Baycourt Theatre on Wednesday 8 September,
The Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna, Auckland on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 September,
Clarence St Theatre in Hamilton on Monday 13 September and TelstraClear Pacific in Manukau on Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 September.

London’s Tall Stories TheatreCompanyhave toured in Britain, Europe, America and beyond with this transformation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s much-loved story and the show has been an even bigger hit in Australia, with sold-out seasons and a prestigious 2009 Sydney Theatre Award for Best Production for Children.

Adapted from the Gold Award-winning children’s book, The Gruffalo follows Mouse into the deep dark wood on a lunchtime hunt for hazelnuts.  Armed with just a nut map and a very vivid imagination, Mouse runs into the smirking, wheeler-dealer Fox; an eccentric, retired Woodland Air Force General Owl; and the maraca-shaking, party animal Snake.

Rather than becoming the main course of their next meal, Mouse kills their appetites with stories of an imaginary monster friend. Little does this clever critter know but Mouse will have to escape the jaws of this faux protector as well.

In a production that has become the toast of London’s West End, Tall Stories vibrantly reinvents this delightful tale through its signature style of bold, multifaceted storytelling. 

This triumphant trio of performers fill the forest with colourful characters and toe tapping, sing-along songs capturing the magic of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s adored modern classic.

“The cast of three brings the story to wonderful life … an irresistibly charming tale told with refreshing simplicity” – The Times (London)

"funny, charming and smart… brings the house down" – Sydney Morning Herald 

The Gruffalo is at the
Opera House, Wellington on Saturday 4 September;
TSB Showplace, New Plymouth on Monday 6 September;
Baycourt Theatre, Tauranga on Wednesday 8 September;
Bruce Mason Centre, Takapuna, Auckland on Friday 10 and Saturday 11 September;
Clarence St Theatre, Hamilton on Monday 13 September and
TelstraClear Pacific, Manukau, Auckland on Wednesday 15 and Thursday 16 September.

For bookings or more information visit 

North Island

Auckland (North Shore): Bruce Mason Centre | 13 – 16 August |
Book at Ticketmaster 0800 111 999 or

Whangarei: Forum North | Wednesday 17 August |
Book at Ticketek 0800 842 538
Kerikeri: The Centre at Kerikeri | Thursday 18 August |
Book at  or phone (09) 407 0260

Auckland (Glen Eden): Glen Eden Playhouse | 20 – 22 August |
Book at Ticketmaster 0800 111 999 or

Auckland (South): TelstraClear Pacific | Tuesday 23 August |
Book at Ticketdirect 0800 224 224or

Tauranga: Baycourt Theatre | 27 – 28 August |
Book at Ticketdirect 0800 224 224or

Rotorua: Civic Theatre | Tuesday 30 August |
Book at Ticketmaster 0800 111 999 or  

Taupo: Great Lake Centre | Wednesday 31 August |
Book at Ticketek 0800 842 538or

Hamilton: Founders Theatre | 2 – 3 September | Book at Ticketek 0800 842 538  or

New Plymouth: Theatre Royal, TSB Showplace | Tuesday 6 September | | Book at Ticketmaster 0800 111 999 or  

Napier: Municipal Theatre | Thursday 8 September |
Book at Ticketdirect 0800 224 224or

Palmerston North: Regent on Broadway | Saturday 10 September |
Book at Ticketdirect 0800 224 224or   


Adaption by Tall Stories Theatre Company Olivia Jacobs & Toby Mitchell, artistic directors
Directed by Olivia Jacobs
Music & lyrics by Jon Fiber & Olivia Jacobs
Additional music & lyrics by Robin Price & Andy Shaw
Music production by Jon Fiber & Andy Shaw for Shock Productions
Associate Director Stephen Colyer (Jane Miskovic 2011)
 Designer Isla Shaw
Original Lighting Design James Whiteside
Produced in Australia and New Zealand by Christine Dunstan Productions ,
Cast (in alphabetical order)
Stephen Anderson: Predators / Narrator
Crystal Hegedis: Mouse
Simon van der Stap: Gruffalo / Narrator (Nat Jobe, 2011) 
Tim Blundell (Company Stage Manager),
Lauren Tulloh (Assistant Stage Manager) (Lauren Tulloh, 2011)

Your kids will have a blast

Review by Lexie Matheson ONZM 14th Aug 2011

Any child born in the 21st century to a literate family will have come across the books of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, the two most popular being The Gruffalo and its sequel The Gruffalo’s Child. *[See below for further background and context.]

Our son who attended this performance of The Gruffalo has had this book in his top ten since he was two years old. Such is his love of the story, and of Scheffler’s illustrations, that he took the time to create a Gruffalo suit with appropriate makeup to wear to this performance, a performance he afterwards described as “awesome”. He is, after all, a Gruffalo of very few words.

The Bruce Mason Centre Theatre is a complex venue for spoken word performance. When seated in the first 3rd of the auditorium the experience is often quite different from that received further back. What could be described as an intimate and personal experience for those nearer the stage can become distant and disconnected for those further back. The Sky City Theatre, at 800 or so seats, is disquietingly similar. Both are great for live music and dance but less so for the spoken word.

It’s fair to say that The Gruffalo is essentially an intimate show and, when performed on the expansive stage at the Bruce Mason, only the central area downstage is required. 

The attractive, milk-chocolate set consists of five cut out trees, a central copse, two tall stumps (suitable for hiding behind), one short one, and a stage floor that is speckled by an eye-catching leafy green gobo. 

The audience – a full house of largely under-eights who clearly knew the story, for its opening – enter to a pre-recorded twitter of delicate bird tweets and with a level of anticipation and child-like preshow volume that are at an equally high level.

The dilemma for anyone staging such a well-known story, particularly one with such evocative illustrations, is to fulfil the expectations of an audience deeply entrenched in the lyricism of the text and the extraordinary imagery of the book. Either that or they must enable us to suspend our disbelief and simply accept what is being presented for what it is. 

From the opening stanza it is clear that the numerous characters in Donaldson and Scheffler’s original are to be performed by only three actors and, since one is to play the Mouse (Crystal Hegedis) and another the Gruffalo (Nat Jobe), it is immediately clear that the third actor (Stephen Anderson) is in for a very busy afternoon. 

It is also clear from the outset that there is to be little or no attempt to replicate Scheffler’s images, which is not to say that the costumes are any less effective as each of the characters is clearly delineated and effectively performed.  

Unlike Donaldson’s text this stage version contains songs and these are, in the main, well performed with ‘The Woodland Airforce Club’ being particularly effective while the Gruffalo’s solo ‘What Gruffalo’s Do’ is somewhat less so. It’s not that the song is less well performed, simply that it is a less effective composition, especially considering it encapsulates the title character’s first entrance. 

The script for The Gruffalo cleverly interlocks Donaldson’s well known rhyming couplets – cheerfully chanted in unison by the entire audience – with a more everyday text supplied by additional script writers Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell, and some effective improvisation by the actors. The audience loved the interaction between them, the performers and the story and engaged fully, and gleefully, with this process.  

Crystal Hegedis plays the mouse throughout and is suitably close in interpretation to Donaldson’s story. The youngsters in the audience found Hegedis’ performance both enchanting and accessible and related to her right from the get go. Her easy going charm and considerable craft holds the storyline together and allows for suitable eccentricity from the other cast members. 

Nat Jobe narrates much of the first half of the story and presents a suitably benign and largely genial Gruffalo in the latter. His forays into the audience as the Gruffalo were very much appreciated. 

Stephen Anderson is everyone else. 

Anderson has the satisfaction of creating the quirk in the show – that’s assuming that the Mouse and the Gruffalo aren’t quirky enough (they are). The Fox, the Owl and the Snake as well as a considerable amount of narrative are left in Anderson’s capable hands and his ability to delineate difference and embody character is a delight. His Biggles-like RAF owl and matador snake – complete with maracas, piratical head scarf and delicious golden bullfighters suit of lights – are clever creations, effective to such a degree that our son asked, at the curtain call, where the other actors were. 

Performing for audiences of largely preschool age can be hazardous because when they cease to engage they always do something else which usually involves considerable amounts of noise, frequent visits to the bathroom and loud requests to go home. It is to the credit of this show that the youngsters remained focused on the experience for virtually the full 50 minutes and clapped happily at the end.

There was a general air of satisfaction expressed by the young members of the audience and since this was a non traditional adult audience, most seemed happy with what they had experienced.

Creating much loved children’s stories, especially those with powerful and recognisable imagery is always difficult, and while this experience was very enjoyable, it is fair to say that, for those who have to choose between seeing the show or buying the book, I would have to recommend the latter.

No disrespect to the show,which contains skilled acting and polished performances, but the production is, at times, somewhat formulaic and, while it satisfied the majority of the young audience including my Gruffalo-clad eight year old, I was left yearning for more of the eccentric enchantment that Donaldson and Scheffler had created in the pages of their book and a little less of the ‘three shows a day, it’s Saturday so it must be Auckland’ feeling I was left with. 

In conclusion it has to be said, again, that the target audience went away happy so my middle aged, adult niggle might well be disregarded as some Scrooge-like, pre-Christmas mean spiritedness and, if you take your kids, I have little doubt they’ll have a blast.

It is, after all, The Gruffalo! 

*The Gruffalo has won a number of accolades for children’s literature and has sold over ten million copies worldwide as well as being presented in performance form on Broadway and in the West End. In 2009 a short animated film of The Gruffalo was shown by the BBC featuring Robbie Coltrane as the hairy beast, Helena Bonham Carter as the narrator, Tom Wilkinson as the Fox and John Hurt as the Owl. The film was nominated for a BAFTA in 2010 and for an Academy Award in 2011. 

For parents wanting further exposure to Donaldson and Scheffler’s work I can personally recommend The Smartest Giant in Town, Room on the Broom, Charlie Cook’s Favourite Book and A Squash and a Squeeze, all of which are family favourites.    

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Review by Sian Robertson 11th Sep 2010

I usually attend children’s shows with some trepidation – is the music going to be unbearably cheesy (which I have to forgive because kids, it seems, love that)? Is it going to put me to sleep with laboured repetition (which kids, it seems, delight in)? This one lives up to the claim ‘for all ages’ more than any children’s play I’ve seen in a long time.

Adapted from the hugely popular picture book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler, this production of the Gruffalo is delightful, funny and populated with great characters. The songs (based largely on lines from the book) didn’t make me cringe and yet still manage to be lively and fun for young children. There is subtle, wry humour for the mums and dads.

In case you’re not familiar with the book: a mouse is searching for nuts in the forest and has to use her quick wits to escape from predators she meets on the way (fox, owl, then snake). She hoodwinks them by telling them she is waiting for the Gruffalo, a huge, black-tongued, tusked, purple-spined creature whose favourite food is… roasted fox – owl ice cream – scrambled snake. They each scamper off in fright and the mouse is delighted to see such fearsome animals run away from the threat of an imaginary creature. However, when she discovers to her astonishment that there really is a Gruffalo, she must once again trick her predator out of eating her for dinner. 

The characters have been adapted from the book and fleshed out with delightful quirks and inventive costumes: the Owl has flying goggles (making him look particularly owlish) and a preoccupation with recruiting for the RAF; the Fox sports a cheese-cutter and cockney lilt; the Snake is a slinky Mexican dancer with maracas.

The only character with a traditional costume is, naturally, the Gruffalo, in an elaborate monster bodysuit. A simple set of stylised trees and mysterious lighting create a magical storybook atmosphere. 

The actors are what really make the show a winner. Mouse (Crystal Hegedis) is cute as a button with plenty of heart, the Gruffalo (Simon van der Stap) is a big scary dope and my favourites have to be the idiosyncratic characters played by Stephen Anderson: the Fox, the Owl and the Snake.

Van der Strap and Anderson take turns at being the over-enthusiastic narrator (who keeps interfering with the storyline and irritating the other characters). The playful choreography and sound effects allow all three to demonstrate their physical talents and comic timing.

A couple of very young audience members were frightened at the start and had to leave, partly because it was a spooky forest scene, but also partly, I think, because it was unnecessarily loud. In fact I would suggest that the sound be turned down a fraction just on the voice mics, to avoid grating distortion, which made my ears rattle from time to time.

Being on a weekday, it was mostly pre-schoolers at the session we went to, most of whom seemed to be enthralled; my 8-year-old also enjoyed the show, so it’s suitable for school-age too. All enthusiastically joined in the participatory prompts from the Mouse to growl like a Gruffalo and yell out helpful pointers.
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Delightful, charming, totally entertaining

Review by Deb Meldrum 10th Sep 2010

Adults who would like 50 minutes of escapism should take themselves off to The Gruffalo. You don’t need an accompanying child to enjoy this delightful tale of a hungry mouse in search of a nice hazelnut who has to use imagination and fast thinking to ward off predators. 

This musical adaptation of the award-winning book by Julie Donaldson and Axel Scheffler really deserves all the glowing comments quoted in its publicity.  It is a “big, musical monster of a show” despite being simply staged.  

The Gruffalo has great production values and a talented cast of three. In Tauranga they kept the predominantly young audience riveted and the excellent interaction with the audience meant that the mouse got loud vocal support from the children whenever it was required.

The set and lighting create a believable and magical ‘deep dark wood.’   The comedy is pitched to appeal to a range of ages, so everyone from the three year olds to the more aged get to chuckle at the humour. 

The show “is a little bit scary,” to quote a three year old member of the audience, but the characters of the Fox, the Owl and the Snake are humorous and entertaining.  These three roles (performed by the one actor) are great fun with the fox played as a smart cockney, the owl as a Royal Air Force flying ace, and the snake as a vain Mexican dandy.  

The terrifying Gruffalo, looks just like his picture in the book, but he is scared by the smart little mouse and flees out into the audience in the hope that the children will protect it. 

Parents and grandparents, gather up your three to seven year olds and get them to The Gruffalo to be immersed in a delightful, charming and totally entertaining world.
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Simply charming and funny

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 07th Sep 2010

Unlike the vociferous and excited youngsters who filled the stalls of The Opera House at the second of three hour-long showings of The Gruffalo on Saturday, I didn’t know ‘there’s no such thing as a gruffalo’ until one sat down right in front of me.

This highly popular children’s picture book has been turned, as Mouse says in the introduction, into a big musical monster of a show. It is produced by Australia’s Christine Dunstan Productions and is now racing through the North Island on a punishing tour of some of the major centres.

Actually, Mouse is exaggerating. While there are songs, it isn’t – mercifully – a big show despite being performed in too large a theatre. It’s a funny one, an energetically performed one, a thoroughly entertaining one, and it must be faithful to the original book because the audience on Saturday, who seemed to know it backwards, wouldn’t have stood for it if it had been changed.

Crystal Hegedis plays Mouse with a chirpy confidence until Mouse has to go into the deep dark wood to look for nuts and the dangers of the unknown become apparent. Slowly Mouse learns to face the dangers with confidence and it’s a beautifully told lesson that everyone has to learn throughout life.

The dangers are Fox (a Cockney wide boy), Owl (a flying ace and member of the Woodland Air Force Club), and Snake (a slick Latin American maracas player). All of them are afraid of the mythical gruffalo. They are played with a bristling comic energy by Stephen Anderson. The narrator (and later the not-so scary gruffalo) is played by Simon van der Stap.

There are some good lines (‘Of course it’s a mouse, it’s wearing cargo pants!’), lots of audience participation of the traditional kind, some cheerful and amusing songs, and knock-about comedy, and it exudes charm, fun, and a winning simplicity.
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Imaginative adventure story ticks all the boxes

Review by John Smythe 04th Sep 2010

Unlike most of the young audience, I was not very familiar with Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book before I saw this show but that doesn’t matter.

This Tall Stories (Britain) adaptation of their wonderfully wrought tale comes across clearly, if a little impersonally, in a simply-staged, radio-mic’d, whistle-stop tour of large North Island venues, courtesy Australia’s Christine Dunstan Productions.

To say Mouse is out to lunch, in the deep dark wood, is not to say she can’t look after herself when she finds more than nuts on her quest. Sure she thinks it might be fun to search for a monster too, but that question of lunch – of who might be having whom for lunch – keeps coming up.  

First a Fox, characterised as a cockney wide-boy, invites Mouse to lunch in his underground house. To get out of it diplomatically, she pretends she has a prior engagement with … with … “The Gruffalo!” shouts her audience. She is then obliged to describe some of its characteristics to back up her fanciful story.

Likewise when a raffish Owl, then a Spanish (or is he Mexican?) Rattle Snake, fancies Mouse for lunch … And so the myth of the Gruffalo grows. But there’s no such thing as a Gruffalo, don’t you know … Except when there is. And the Gruffalo is hungry too …

Crystal Hegedis expresses a full range of states in Mouse, from timid to adventurous, innocent to inventive, fearful to happy and full of beans (well, nuts). All children – and adults too – will identify.

Stephen Anderson plays all the predators with comedic relish and shares the narration with Simon van der Stap, who then manifests the Gruffalo. They work like clockwork as a team and pitch the predators and Gruffalo with exactly the right degree of scariness to delight the young audience.

The odd theatrical in-joke (e.g. “He’s a horror to work with”) has been interpolated, presumably to keep jaded adults amused. Sometimes the level of child-chatter in the audience may lead us to think interest is flagging but far from it: it’s the story they’re talking about, and their responses at key moments prove they are fully engaged.

As directed by Olivia Jacobs, this highly imaginative adventure story ticks all the boxes for children growing a sense of themselves in a bigger world that promises much and is sometimes scary. Those who already know the story will love it; those who don’t will want to know more. If you’re in New Plymouth, Tauranga, Hamilton or Auckland (North Shore or South) – click here for dates and venues – avail yourselves.   
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