Review – Oi Frog & Friends! – Liverpool Playhouse

Image by Pamela Raith.
Review by Nigel Smith

Kes Gray and Jim Field scored a hit with their series of Oi! Books for children and this immaculate stage adaptation that brings together Frog, Cat, Dog and some of their other furry friends is a spectacular example of how successfully such characters can be brought to life.

What it takes is a small amount of carefully made scenery and puppets, a whopping great dose of imagination and absolute truck-loads of energy and enthusiasm from a cast of four fearless actors.
I don’t say fearless for nothing. Devotees of the books will know that rhyming is key to the narrative, and before the show begins the performers mingle with the audience, taking down names of pretty much every child in the house and writing them down, along with a rhyming thing for them to ‘sit’ on. On Wednesday afternoon a school party had been held up in traffic, and the show was delayed for about 20 minutes awaiting their arrival. This meant that the participatory introduction went on rather longer than anyone might have expected, so huge respect to the cast, who had to keep on mingling whilst the deliriously enthusiastic young audience became wound up to fever pitch.

Dressed initially as schoolteachers, with cloaks and mortar boards, the cast welcome us to Sittingbottom School for Animals, where Cat is in charge telling everyone where to sit. There is no problem in getting Fox to sit on a box, Mule on a stool or Hare on a chair, but then the new boy arrives.

Frog doesn’t want to sit on a log. It’s all knobbly and uncomfortable and he’s getting splinters in his bottom. When Dog is told he must sit on a Frog it all goes a tad crazy, as Frog suddenly develops a miraculous and compulsive talent for rhyme. He decides he’s going to rip up Cat’s rule book and give every animal in the world something rhyming to sit on.

Frog appears in the guise of a metre high puppet, operated and voiced mainly by Robin Hemmings, while his friend Dog is a huge head, leg and tail wrapped around Darren Seed. I never thought I’d find myself using the word ‘adorable’ in a review but really – these animals are simply captivating. Lucy Tuck becomes Cat with the aid of a sort of large mask, and Simon Yadoo both provides additional movement for Frog and takes on many other animal guises, including Cheetah who brings us a Mexican festival with his fajita.

I have a terrible confession to make: When asked by Dog to come with him backstage I remained steadfastly glued to my seat. In a way I’m glad I did, because otherwise I’d have missed the appearance of the Duck Billed Platypus onstage, at what becomes the grand denouement of the story. There goes my Olivier Award.

Oi Frog and Friends is educational, it’s got some traditional storybook morals woven into it, but above all it is just under an hour of sheer unadulterated fun. If you have one or more small children to pretend are your reason for going then please take them, they’ll love it. If you don’t have or can’t borrow a child then just dig deep inside yourself and find the one that lives there. You won’t regret it. But watch out for the Elephant – it has a trick up its trunk.

Oi Frog and Friends is at the Playhouse twice daily until 29th February and then continues touring with a further 14 venues listed on the tour.

Star Rating: 5 Stars