Posts Tagged ‘Roald Dahl’

Three stage adaptations of his books running simultaneously in the West End is a real testimony to the timelessness and enduring appeal of Roald Dahl. This is one I haven’t read, so I approach it afresh.

Chloe Lamford has created a brilliant design which is spectacular yet intimate, grotesque yet funny. Mr & Mrs Twit live in a giant circular space and the monkeys they persecute in a cage which rises from underneath at the front. The circle is sometimes replaced by a stage (which looks like it will cover the front of the stalls when it lowers) onto which the caravan of the fairground folk enters and opens. You seem to be peering in to something very close but other worldly.

Jason Watkins and Monica Dolan also create grotesque characters that you have to hate but love just a bit. The monkeys they imprison and torment (Welsh!) are charming, none more so (well, for me anyway) when singing Welsh hymn Calon Lan unaccompanied quite beautifully. Those they have robbed of their fairground (northerners) seem hapless in the face of their trickery and mercilessness. Martin Lowe has added great music, not least punk rhythms to convey The Twits manic menace.

I don’t know whether it’s the book or Enda Walsh’s ‘mischievous adaptation’, but I found the story a bit thin, with a lot less substance that I’m used to with Dahl. In truth, not a lot happens in two hours. I also felt it didn’t have as strong a moral compass as we expect from Dahl. That said, the young people around us were having a grand old time (well, apart from the girl in the second row who paid more attention to her seemingly bottomless packet of crisps) and it was the day after the BAFTA’s so Jason Watkins provided a cheeky ad lib when he was encouraging contributions from the audience – acceptance speech, anyone?

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The most common criticism of this show seems to be ‘all spectacle, no heart’ which is a puzzle to me as I thought it had both heart and spectacle. It has always been one of my favourite stories so it had the potential to disappoint, but I thought they were spot on in this adaptation. I loved it.

Even though you don’t get into Wonka’s factory until the second half, the first didn’t lag. It focuses largely on Charlie’s word in the slums, with introductions to the four other silver spoon – golden ticket winners inside a giant TV. By the interval, you were in love with Charlie’s entire family. In the second half, the spectacle increases as we move around the factory and each of the four little monsters gets what they deserve. The Ompa-Loompas are brilliantly created in a surprisingly lo-tech fashion; in fact, the spectacle does have a charming retro feel to it that seemed to me completely in keeping with the material and its pedigree. I find it difficult to judge the score on first hearing, but there were a couple of stand-out solo numbers and some rousing choruses.

What impressed me most I think was the casting. Douglas Hodge captures the combination of eccentric, benevolent, mad and magical that is Wonka very well indeed. Nigel Planer is excellent as Grandpa Joe, the leader of a fine quartet of bed-bound grandparents. It was great to see Alex Clatworthy, who I first saw as (kiss me) Kate at the Guildhall School just two years ago, in such a high-profile role so soon and it was also good to see Jack Shalloo leap from the fringe (Departure Lounge & The Kissing Dance) to this; they were both great as Charlie’s parents. At our performance, Charlie was played with great confidence and charm by Louis Suc and the children playing the four less sympathetic characters were great too.

I actually enjoyed this more than Matilda, not only because the sound was a whole lot better, but because I thought it served Roald Dahl’s story better. It works equally well for children and adults of all ages – my younger adult companions adored it and for our 7-year old theatrical first-timer, well it may be all downhill from here!

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Walking through the foyers to your seats at the Cambridge Theatre is great fun as they’ve covered the walls with mini blackboards, each with a different chalked comment. When we got to our seats, in pole position in the front row of the Dress Circle, our mouthes fell open – Rob Howell’s extraordinary design spilled out from the stage onto the auditorium walls and ceiling.

Sadly, when the show started the sound was so bad we were missing a good quarter of the dialogue and lyrics (the developing cacophony of crisp & sweet rusting and malteser rolling increased that to 33%). What followed was brilliantly performed and executed (well, apart from the 15 minute pause to solve a technical problem – and I’m not entirely convinced it re-started at the exact point it stopped), but I didn’t think the book, music or lyrics were really that good. Has everyone been seduced by the spectacle and the hugely talented kids? 

I don’t know which Matilda we had, but she was brilliant. Bertie Carvel’s Miss Trunchbull is a wonderful creation, and Paul Kaye and Josie Walker as the parents are excellent. Matthew Warchus’ staging and Peter Darling’s choreography are also superb….but at the end of the day, I really do think this is all papering over mediocre material. It’s not a ‘great British musical’ – it’s an up-market kids show and somehow I feel Roald Dahl’s story would be served better by a minimalist imaginative staging at the Young Vic or BAC where the kids could use their imagination rather than have it shoved in their faces like a video game.

Of course, it’s not for me. Maybe it’s great if you’ve got a few hundred quid and a couple of kids with ADHD to amuse for a few hours……

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I have fond memories of reading these tales and watching the TV adaptation (as I write, I can hear the theme tune in my head!), though it feels like forever ago and I can’t remember the detail of any of them.

What Jeremy Dyson has done for the Lyric Hammersmith is to link a number of the tales together ‘framed’ by the arrival of a stranger into the carriage of a commuter train (I think this is the adaptation rather than written by Dahl, but I could be wrong) and it’s surprisingly effective.

Some scenes were exceptionally funny, some head-turning nasty and one set in a public school positively chilling. It’s a fascinating concoction and it’s beautifully staged by Polly Findlay ,with a revolve changing scenes quickly, and played by a small cast of six. I particularly loved Selina Griffiths’ turns as grotesque predatory landlady and revengeful wife and George Rainsford and the boy (I don’t know which one was performing on the night we went) as the public school bully and his ‘fag’. There’s no set, just a few props and a great use of sound (by Nick Manning) for atmosphere and tension.

I was surprised when it ended after 80 minutes; this left me with the feeling that I’d just watched work in progress or unfinished business – as much as I enjoyed what I saw, I left feeling hungry. I can see why you wouldn’t want to halves, but the one half could maybe be more substantial – another tale or two?

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