Writer: Roald Dahl
Adapter: David Wood
Director: Sarah Esdaile
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
For over 30 years, Roald Dahl’s tale of the The Big Friendly Giant has lit up classrooms, libraries and bedtimes. It is no surprise that David Wood’s adaptation has been produced for nearly 25 years and has been chosen as The Octagon Theatre’s festive production. Filled with Dahl’s made up vocabulary, called ‘gobblefunk’, we are subjected to frightsome beasts in this whoopsy-splunkers race to save the chidlers of the world.
Peeking out of her orphanage window late one night little Sophie spots a giant – something that no other ‘human bean’ has ever done before. Swiped away to Giant Country, Sophie is fortunate enough to be in the company of The Big Friendly Giant (BFG) – as oppose to “the others” with names like Bonecruncher, Fleshlumpeater and Bloodbottler. Under the BFG’s wing Sophie learns about the strangeness of this land and how the BFG blows pleasant dreams into the ears of the children of the world… rather than eating them as his counterparts do! Deciding to put anend to this disgusterous behaviour Sophie and The BFG enlist The Queen of England to aid them in their quest to make the world believe in these gigantic brutes and, most importantly, to catch them!
Any production of The BFG is bound to use puppetry and rely on wonderful leaps of imagination. We first meet Sophie (Macy Nyman) in the orphanage clutching her facsimile doll which she then operates throughout most of the first half as we enter The BFG’s cave. Puppetry director and designer Michael Fowkes employs rod and shadow puppetry, over-sized props and giant faces at windows to keep all scales and sizes, as The BFG would say, jumbly.
As Sophie, Nyman has the lost child-like quality necessary as she is whisked off on a rollercoaster ride. As the BFG, John Seward has a shock of bright orange hair and the obligatory big ears. From the outset Seward is big and blustery but it is a shame not to have seen a quieter, more humble side to The BFG. The energy starts so high it leaves him nowhere else to go. Richard Booth, Philip Bosworth and Roddy Peters bound onto stage as three ogres: half-strapped into large puppetry costumes and perform Haka-inspired routines while laughing maniacally like a cross between Waldorf and Statler from The Muppets and Sid James. Much fun is had by the ensemble cast in the second half as the actors are allowed to go to town with their cartoonish portrayals of ‘Her Majester’ The Queen (Sarah Finigan), a maid, a butler and the heads of the Army and Air Force.
But the most phizz-whizzing and whoopsy wiffling aspect of the production is the design. Janet Bird has created real moments of magic with a cartoonish feel. Director Sarah Esdaile keeps the pace moving but is hugely helped by wonderful reveals and cleverly concealed delights. The ensemble wears identical pyjamas to Sophie allowing them to become extra puppeteers or assist the action without distraction. A homemade papier-mache quality to the design is extremely endearing – puppets have rough cardboard edges and The Queen and her maid wear newspaper printed fabric. Yet there is also a real pleasure in the detail with a corgi on the Queen’s tea tray and swans printed on her dressing gown. Standing out in the production is a beautiful sequence as Sophie and The BFG catch colourful dancing dreams in Dreamland.
With a frothbuggling whizz-popping set and a dream excerpt that leaves children in heaps of laughter, there may be moments of cacophonous chaos on school matinée days. With so much magic in the design, it is a slight shame the production seems to have a pace as roughshod as a giant’s stomp. That said, the two seven year olds I was with declared it to be ‘gloriumptious’.
Runs until 9 January 2016 | Photo: Ian Tilton