Tuesday, 29 November 2011

In Review: The BFG

Robert Pickavance is The BFG
at The Dukes

While Roald Dahl's children's novel The Big Friendly Giant is full of witty wordplay and dialogue which transfers well to the stage, it would also seem to pose a range of theatrical challenges: how will they do the giants? how will the dreams be shown? how is little Sophie transported? will she really ride in the BFG's ear? what about breakfast with the Queen?

Sophie doesn't ride in the BFG's ear, but The BFG is nevertheless very cleverly theatricalised, and all credit to adapter David Wood and to the direction of Joe Sumsion and Associate Director Louie Ingham here.

Sophie is played by Rachel Drazek, but is also an identically-dressed puppet which Drazek deftly operates and voices. So when Sophie is with the BFG, we focus on the puppet; when she is with the human-sized Queen, we see Drazek herself. We also see her as a moving cut-out figure when the Heads of the Army and Airforce are watching the capture of the giants Childchewer, Bloodbottler, Fleshlumpeater and Bonecrucher on screen.

Similarly, the BFG is played as a very gentle giant by Robert Pickavance, but he also appears as a large face in the window of the Queen's bedroom, and in the form of a huge puppet during breakfast with the Queen. These different representations add to the interest of the production.

Sophie (Rachel Drasek) discovers The Queen in The BFG

The audience could not have been more appreciative. Perhaps around the age most attractive to flesh-eating giants, they created a sea of black and blue and red sweatshirts, Before the performance started they were noisy; when the first act opened there were screams and shouts, and when the second act opened these doubled in volume. But during the acts there was complete silence - except for the audience participation. Dahl's novel does not allow for the Heads of the Army and Navy to be evidently and completely oblivious to the BFG looming above them, but theatre does - and the audience was not slow with 'He's behind you!!!!'. Neither does it allow us to see the several absurd positions the BFG adopts prior to whizzpopping (if you don't understand, read the book) - but again theatre does, and the audience loved it. And theatre can show the dreams - not just tell us about them - and the dancing of the 'teachers' (Mark Pearce, Amanda Bellamy) was a delight.

There is a lot more of a very positive nature that could be said about this production: the appearance of Fleshlumpeater et al., the 'gracious' performance of the Queen (Amanda Bellamy), Louisa Eyo's performance of Mary the Maid; and breakfast with the Queen, during which there are no words and we can simply watch the butler, Mr Tibbs' (Richard Hand) super-efficient but stiff-upper-lip attempts to serve the BFG with sausages and coffee. When it came to the curtain call, it was hard to believe that there had only been six actors on stage throughout.

I had three small reservations - the puppet Sophie only has a single, serious expression (but perhaps expecting more is expecting too much); the association of particular dreams with different music before the BFG caught them didn't seem to work, and the ending seemed a little flat. But these are minor, and probably personal to this reviewer. This is an ambitious, imaginative, well-acted and very coherent production, which definitely hit the spot with this morning's large and very young audience. A great choice for a holiday show.

Jane Sunderland

• The BFG runs until Saturday 7th January 2012. Tickets £5.00 - £16.50.
Wednesday 30th November 30 - 10.30 a.m., 2.00 pm; then various times in including 10.30 am and 2.00 pm.
More info: www.dukes-lancaster.org
The Dukes is at Moor Lane, Lancaster LA1 1QE. Box Office 01524 598500

• See also http://www.roalddahlfans.com/books/bfg.php

Meet the cast of The BFG

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