Review: What the Ladybird Heard (Palace Theatre)

Based on the picture book by Julia Donaldson and Lydia Monks, What the Ladybird Heard is a treat for young children and the young at heart.

The four-strong cast – Roddy Lynch, Nikita Johal, James Mateo-Salt and Matthew McPherson – bring tons of enthusiasm and energy to this story of a farmer and a dastardly attempt to steal his prize cow.

A farmyard romp with songs and puppetry, this show sparkles from the very beginning, as a sun rises and the animals are introduced. Cleverly, those which are not puppets are created from objects lying around: a bicycle and bucket become a horse; a red glove shapes a hen.

With catchy music and lyrics by Jon Fiber and Andy Shaw (additional lyrics by Howard Jacques), this is fun from the off, with bits of audience participation to keep children involved.

Promotional image for What the Ladybird Heard

What the Ladybird Heard benefits from a close fidelity to the source book, a cast who are a joy to watch (Johal and Mateo-Salt are particularly fun, with her winning smile and his shy squeak), and excellent design from Bek Palmer.

The puppets are richly detailed (Trina Bramman’s cheeky dog and Debbie Mingham’s junk animals soon display their own ‘personalities’) and the lighting by Ric Mountjoy gives plenty of atmosphere.

This show is a delight to watch. Perhaps a tad too long for the very small or the constantly inattentive, but the performers give their heart and soul to this and clearly feed off a live audience.

Matthew McPherson and James Mateo-Salt in What the Ladybird Heard

Director Graham Hubbard notes in the programme the constraints of creating a production “with nine animals, several humans and a ladybird, without the budget the size of a major West End musical”.

He’s succeeded in creating a toe-tapping musical with catchy songs and a resolution that will surely make “everyone shout hooray”.

What the Ladybird Heard is at London’s Palace Theatre until 29 August – book your tickets here. It then tours the UK from 16 September to 4 December (details here), including a return London engagement at artsdepot in October.

Image credit: Robert Day

LouReviews received complimentary access to review What the Ladybird Heard.