A fun story of family, bravery and wit takes centre stage on Roald Dahl’s birthday this Friday.

FAMILY. Adversity. Good. Evil. Such meaty subjects are the hallmarks of a good story, one that plucks the strings of our heart and caresses the soul of our humanity.

Roald Dahl (1916-1990) certainly knew a lot about crafting good stories; his seemingly simple children’s stories often had protagonists facing situations where the odds are stacked against them with only courage and daring seeing them win through in the end. In his Fantastic Mr Fox (1970), for instance, a father goes to great and fantastic lengths to protect his family and eventually the community of the downtrodden.

This timeless tale of family, diversity, and friendship – as adapted for the stage in 2001 by Sir David Wood – has been chosen by local children’s theatre company Box of Delights to mark what would be the British author’s 97th birthday on Friday.

Directed by Marvin Wong and featuring Na’a Murad, Jerrica Lai, Sukania Venugopal, Freddy Tan, Siti Farrah Abdullah, Tria Aziz, Caleb Fong, Arjun Kang, Toby Ann Ujhazy, Loh Ui Li, Raghuram and Eugene Yeo, the local staging boasts on-screen animation along with songs, dance and fight sequences, and much more, and will run for three days at PJ Life Arts, Petaling Jaya.

If you haven’t read the book or watched the 2009 movie adaptation, Fantastic Mr Fox tells the story of Mr Fox who lives in a cosy underground burrow with his three kids and wife and steals food from farms belonging to three cruel farmers. When the farmers join forces to kill Mr Fox by digging into his burrow, he and his family survive the attack by the skin of their teeth and are left to starve. But the fantastic Mr Fox always has something up his elegant sleeve and soon devises a plan to not only feed his family but his friends, too.

The Fox family is played by (from left) Arjun Kang, Na’a Murad, Jerrica Lai, Caleb Fong and Toby Ann Ujhazy. – The Star

Central to the plot are the children of Mr Fox and Na’a, who plays the titular role, finds the relevance of his character in the fact that when his children’s lives are threatened, Mr Fox climbs the mountain and slays the dragon as it were just so that he can feed and protect them.

“In a moment of crisis, the rules are not so clear. When there’s real danger, a person needs to step up to save his family. Mr Fox is not like Gandhi or Mandela but he’s still a hero … an accidental hero if you will. And I like the fact that he’s never overly serious, as many heroic characters are. He kids around with his children,” says Na’a, adding, “What I like about the play is that there is a strong environmental base to it and it’s also about community, bravery and the underdogs sticking together.”

Playing the role of the middle child is Caleb Fong, 14. He says the play is very much about family and family dynamics and that “It’s something kids can relate to. Nowadays, kids spend hours on their computers and smartphones and I think a play like this, or theatre in general, can engage them intellectually on important issues like family.”

Heroes need villains, of course, and in this case they come in the form of farmers Boggis, Bean and Bunce. Much like the three Stooges, the farmers are dim-witted men who, because of their greed, have made it their personal agenda to hunt down Mr Fox and get rid of him before he steals their produce.

But what’s interesting about the farmers is that they will be played as puppets, controlled by Freddy Tan, Siti Farrah Abdullah and Tria Aziz, who, on top of playing Mole, Rabbit and Weasel respectively, will also be playing farmers Boggis, Bunce and Bean.

“It’s a challenging thing for me to remain neutral and animate the puppet at the same time!” confesses Tan, laughing. “But it’s fun. And I think much of the comedy comes from me reacting to what the puppet says or the puppet reacting to my inaction.”

Wong reasons the idea behind the puppets is to create a duality in the world of the play where the world below ground is real and the world above ground is a “strange world where all the humans are caricatures, and puppetry, I believe, can serve that purpose.

“So I wanted to animate the world above ground. Since it’s a re-enactment of a story Badger is telling, I didn’t want to bring in the actual farmer. So, for instance, you see Mole taking on the character of Boggis through the puppet.”

“It’s going to be an adventurous and explorative journey for the kids and a full-sensory experience for them. There are so many elements in this play, from the actors to the puppets and the children are that close to touching them. It’s like Disneyland,” says Siti.

Fantastic Mr Fox will be playing at PJ Life Arts (Jaya One, No. 72A, Jalan Universiti, Petaling Jaya) from Sept 13 (showtime, 10am) to Sept 15 (showtime Saturday and Sunday, 2pm). Tickets are RM40; for ticketing enquires, visit pjlivearts.my or call 03-7960 0439 (noon-7pm daily).

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