The Naughty Fox has been designed by Toucan Theatre as a multi-sensory show for Under 5s and those with learning disabilities. It is charming, engaging, and whimsical, and the little ones in attendance certainly enjoyed the experience. And it is definitely an experience rather than simply a show; attendees are invited into a “den” where they can sit on comfortable piles of cushions and snuggle beneath a blanket, and throughout the performance are directly engaged by the characters or given a variety of props to fiddle with.
The two performers Bri Malaika and Eleanor Wright clearly love performing this show to their young audiences and are full of smiles and laughs as they move through the tale. Their words are few; emphasising and repeating only the important ones like “Share!” and “Mine!”, while the bulk of narration is pre-recorded. Wright translates the narration into Makaton, and the words appear clearly on a screen as part of the show’s accessible design. The story itself is a little vague even for pre-schoolers but focuses on three soft-toy characters “Honk” a swan, “Splash” a frog, and “Tawit Tawoo” an owl, who happily share with their friends, and the titular Naughty Fox who thinks everything is “Mine!” The sharing element of the show involves props on bungee strings being tied above each child for them to explore and play with; lots of fun but a little distracting when the story moves on and the three-year-olds are still intent on squirting water at each other or hitting you in the face with a pinecone. When the Naughty Fox has chased away the other characters he sits cold and alone on a mountain until the stars encourage him to consider others and share too, with a little song played out with tinkly hand bells. This was the only part that didn’t flow so smoothly; as the colours of the bells flash up on the screen just a little out of time with what is being played, so the children trying to follow along as encouraged are similarly behind. After a happy ending as the characters reconcile, the young audience are invited to come forward and meet the characters which is perhaps the loveliest part of all as toddlers give the Naughty Fox a big hug and strike up conversations about the story with the performers who are happy to engage.
With a runtime of roughly 35 minutes it is great for those with very limited attention spans, but even for the young target audience it passes a little too swiftly. Once they are in the magical world of the show’s creating they are keen to stay much longer! Fleshing out the story a little more to fill another ten minutes or so perhaps wouldn’t go amiss. It would be wonderful to see what else could be created from the boxes that make up the set; revealing props and characters and then transforming into mountains or a sleigh. The imaginative play elements are seemingly endless, and joyful to watch. The moral is also not lost on the children, and parents will be very pleased when their pre-schooler suddenly declares the virtues of sharing their toys with their friends “like the Naughty Fox learned to share!”
The Naughty Fox is in all a delight and perfect as an introduction to theatre for under-5s. The tour continues from Wolverhampton’s Arena Theatre across the country until Christmas.