|“Ghastly Grandma Raises the Roof”
by Amelia Forsbrook for remotegoat on 17/12/10
In many ways, I envy my younger sister. Living in Worcestershire, she goes on regular trips to the Malvern Hills. Our dad cooks for her every night and she still gets to see her best friend five days a week. Perhaps these are questionable arguments for coveting someone else’s lifestyle, but there is another reason far more substantial which I’m sure every adult Roald Dahl fan will understand: At eight years old, she is yet to fully immerse herself in the wickedly humorous world of this Wales-born writer for the first time.
Now, sitting in a theatre where 90% of the audience were my sister’s age or younger, this pang of jealousy came back leaving a putrid taste which I thought nothing could cure. That is, until the arrival of George, played splendidly by Clark Devlin, who brought with him a lively antidote of colourful vitality.
With Devlin’s energy, a delightful farmhouse doll’s house set and a whole host of quirky animal props, the piece made the transition from story book to theatre in a way that children’s stories often fail to do. The directors here have remembered that all the best children’s books are powered by the imagination and have let this fantastical quality seep through into the stage adaptation. Consequently, characters skilfully evaporated from the pages of the book become animated; what was once colourful ink and witty wordplay becomes energy-filled acting.
Another clever device occurs when we witness that, like us, George is mad on storybooks. He pulls out his copy of Billy the Boy Wizard at every opportunity and fantasizes about acting out his own wizardry. So, while George may introduce us to a rose-tinted portrayal of a happy, energetic grandma who spontaneously produces twenty-pound notes, he is evidently being more than wishful. Similarly, when he concocts his magical formula it is clear it is all in his dreams, his imaginary technique motivated by his book and his ‘ingredients’ inspired by the liquids and tablets he spots while completing his banal chores.
This is a delicious world of ‘If Only’s, where the brave George conjures forth the consequences of acting out your dreams, encouraging us to speculate on how the world could be a better place while keeping us rooted in reality. Like grandmother after drinking the medicine, we too are stretched so that our heads can be in the clouds while our feet rest very firmly on the ground.
Although not perfect for that age group who are more concerned about ‘seeing the strings’ than the development of a tale, this work is a delightful story packed full of the kind of wisdom that only exists until your parents inform you that nail polish, chicken feed and toilet cleaner will never be Delia’s recommended ingredients. With this delightfully witty adaptation, and Matilda selling more tickets in Stratford than Harry Wormwood sold dodgy second-hand cars, this winter is certainly shaping to be a Roald Dahl takeover. I’m just holding out for Twits: The Opera.