Writer: Roald Dahl
Adapter: David Woods
Director: Julia Thomas
Reviewer: Jay Nutall
We’ve all wanted to teach someone a lesson, haven’t we? Just a short, sharp shock to make them realise the error of their ways … Roald Dahl’s exciting and mischievous tale of one boy who literally gives someone a taste of their own medicine is staged with an enormous amount of fun and silliness. Once again, Leicester’s Curve Theatre, in conjunction with The Rose Theatre Kingston, are producing high-quality Roald Dahl adaptations following on from recent productions of The Twits and The Witches.
School’s out and clever George can indulge in his favourite hobby of book reading on the family farm. All is well in his world until his ghastly Grandma invites herself to come and stay. Sweet and lavender smelling she is not and she soon makes George’s life a misery while his parents busy themselves so they don’t have to wait hand and foot on the old crone. Summoning him with a red button akin to the judging panel on Britain’s Got Talent, George is forced to make tea and dispense medicine to his ungracious and ungrateful foul witch of a Gran. Driven to despair he decides to make a homemade medicinal concoction made from anything and everything he can get his hands on. The results, in true Dahl style, are weird, wonderful and dark.
From the outset, this show wants to have fun. Artistic license is used to its extent when one of the bulls in the farm is depicted as a ball bouncing basketball player dressed in a Chicago Bulls team strip and horns either side of his head. The lovely thing about this production is the play it has with the audience. Puppet chickens are transported around the stage on the back of radio controlled cars and most characters double up as a chorus (singing and dancing team of scientists in white lab coats). George has amusing flights of fancy about what his Grandma would be like if she were actually nice, or actually a witch, or the best way to scare her. David Woods’ adaptation and Julia Thomas’ direction keep everything snappy and imaginative and, with the entrance of George’s Grandma, this stage version takes a sharp detour from Quentin Blake’s illustrations that graced Dahl’s pages.
Brash and brazen mobility riding Grandma bursts onto stage like the Queen of an elderly, walking pace Hell’s Angel gang … with pink glittery footwear. Adorned with dark sunglasses she is not the frail, grouchy pensioner recognised from the book, rather a leopard-printed loving, gin-guzzling codger happier watching The Jeremy Kyle Show rather than The Antiques Roadshow. This is a bold move by director Thomas. Yorkshire voweled Grandma (Lisa Howard) has broad comedy value but perhaps lacks real grotesque worth when decanting to George her famous speech about how she loves to eat bugs and creepy crawlies. She may be toying with George in this adaptation but the terrifying aspect of the book is that we really believed her.
As George Preston Nyman has exuberance aplenty as he bounds around the stage mixing his potion. However, his pantomime call and response and audience interaction feels a little laboured. That said, it is a useful device in making the children (and grown-ups) in the audience complicit in the concoction of the recipe of his medicine. And, of course, when George and his father try to recreate the brew, a theatre full of children will never forget even one ingredient that went into the original mix! As George’s father, multi-instrumentalist Justin Wilman alternates between scoring some of the action and becoming excited about the ramifications George’s medicine might have for his farm animals. The rest of the cast have an enormous amount of fun tending to an over-sized chicken and a Grandma that has grown so tall she has burst out the top of the house in a costume that can only be likened to a surreal Reeves and Mortimer sketch from the mid-1990s.
Roald Dahl stories are always a family favourite and with some children on half-term this week this is a production that will keep you giggling for a while.
Runs until 24 February 2018 | Image: Manuel Harlan