Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The BFG - The Palace Theatre, Manchester

The BFG by Roald Dahl
Adapted by David Wood
Director: Phil Clark
Reviewer: John Roberts

Stepping into the Palace Theatre, and seeing 100's of excited children you cant help but slowly regress into an excited ten year old.

Roald Dahl's delightfully delicious and sometimes dark children's books were a firm childhood favourite. I remember howling at delight at Mathilda and her psychic powers, wishing I could own a chocolate factory like Charlie, and being scared witless at the pure unadulterated evilness of the Grand High Witch, but nothing delighted me more than the adventures of Sophie and her Big Friendly Giant.

This production is using a critically acclaimed adaptation by Children's playwright David Wood, who seems to be a master at staying true to the books originality but also allowing himself some artistic licence, this mainly comes in the framing of the story, rather than being played for 'Real' Wood's adaptation takes its premise from it being Sophie's Birthday Party and unfortunately the entertainer couldn't make it so her family and friends re-enact her favourite story Roald Dahl's The BFG.

This device sets up the show very quickly but also stills a message into the young children present in the audience that is is all make believe and that nothing you see on stage is real, quite apt really as some of the scene's in the brilliant production are atmospherically quite disturbing, helped along by Sean Crowley's beautifully simplistic stage, the centre piece being a huge bright moon, and rather than seeing a big black box of a usual stage we are treated to a bright blue sky with moving clouds. Crowley's set was wonderfully lit by Ceri James' first rate lighting design, bringing a real air of menace and piece to the various settings in the play.

This production uses a group of actor musicians to tell the tale of Orphan girl Sophie (played with a real integrity and warmth by Becky John, one couldn't help raise a smile when she giggled and winced around the set with childish glee. )who gets whisked away one night after being spotted by the BFG (played with great gravitas and grandfatherly charm by Anthony Pedley) as he blows dreams into the children's bedrooms, taken to the land of the Giants, we see that the BFG is one of a kind, and not like all the other nasty looking giants, who plan to storm the world eating all the children up! The use of live music on stage really helps keep the audience captivated as most if not all the cast play more than one instrument. The original music by Paula Gardener is sublime and really helps set up the pace and anticipation of the scenes as they play out.

Phil Clark's direction is smooth and never fails to keep you on the edge of your seat, (if you don't believe me just ask the girl sat directly behind me who was loving every moment.) Clark has some very clever ideas that make this production a magical introduction to the theatre, with glowing dream bottles, and one of the best uses of shadow puppetry I have seen on stage in a very long time, although highly enjoyable this production isn't without its flaws, a slightly underwhelming second act means it juts doesn't pack the same punch as the first half, perhaps this is down to having an interval - even kids can sit quiet and captivated for 75 minutes without needing a break!

Overall this production comes highly recommended, with a fantastic ensemble, wonderful performances from the central characters, delightful music and a sublime set. This is a first class introduction to the theatre for the young, and a wonderful family night out. This is a show that is a first rate hit rather than a first class Whizz-Pop!

The BFG runs at the Palace Theatre until Sat 29th August
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