Roald Dahl wrote so many bestselling children’s books. Why adapt this particular one for the stage?
GEORGE (which is the name of the show) is Roald Dahl at his best. An anarchic, fun and magical tale that allows children to enjoy a wonderful fantasy, it’s perfect for theatre because it’s such a great adventure story with lots of amazing things that happen on stage. Most children go home and immediately start making their own medicine – although fortunately no-one has given it to their grandma yet!
It’s a bit negative about grandmothers, isn’t it?
Many of the best stories have a fantastic villain at their heart and in Grandma, Dahl created one of English literature’s greatest villains. I played Grandma myself when we first produced the show back in 1995 and it has always remained one of my favourite roles! She is naughty, selfish, wicked and terrifying – what could be more fun to play and to watch? She likes to think she has magic powers but that’s all part of her wonderful conceit. She hates it when George manages to create real magic.
What were the challenges you faced turning this into a stage production?
Anything that requires animals to grow on stage is always going to be a challenge! But our designer, Jackie Trousdale, has done a wonderful job in bringing all manner of creatures to life, from chickens to pigs to bulls. And it all happens right before your eyes! Jackie also designed an entire house in which the action takes place, so you really get a chance to enter into Roald Dahl’s world.
Are we really going to see a 60-foot grandma?
You certainly are! She grows so tall that she crashes through the ceiling, into the attic and out of the roof!
Some grown-ups say the story encourages children to be naughty (and poison their relatives). What do you think?
Roald Dahl understood that children are fully aware of the differences between fantasy and reality. That is why his stories are so brilliant – and have continued to top the best-sellers lists year after year. He never allowed himself to be inhibited by health and safety issues or political correctness. His books allow children’s imaginations to soar, knowing they will always come back to earth at the end.
It’s a whole book. How do you squash that down to make it a show?
David Wood (the director) has adapted many of Dahl’s books and he is an expert in bringing Dahl’s humour and adventure to the stage. GEORGE isn’t a long book, so a great deal of the original story unfolds in the hour and forty minutes of the show. David has also introduced some wonderful fantasy sequences of his own which really add to the story.
Can we expect some exciting special effects?
The show is full of wonderful effects, and the scene where Grandma takes the medicine is very special. But I won’t spoil the surprises. They are part of what makes the production so exciting!
If you were to make a marvellous medicine, who would it be for and what would it do?
I would make a marvellous medicine that turned people’s hair purple whenever they lied! But I guess people would just start shaving their heads!
What’s the toughest thing about kids’ theatre?
Children aren’t aware of the traditional conventions of going to the theatre, which is a good thing! If they are bored, they don’t quietly go to sleep, like their parents. They talk, throw sweets, go to the loo... all of which makes them a much more engaging and exciting audience. When a group of children are quietly listening to a show, you know you’ve got their attention, and your task is to keep their attention from beginning to end. Most ‘experts’ say that children can’t concentrate for longer than 10 or 20 minutes. Our shows have proved this is nonsense – as time and again they have sat watching our most challenging shows in quiet amazement, sometimes for two hours without any loss of concentration. The problem is that a lot of things created for children are rubbish, which leads people to think that children can’t concentrate – instead of spurring adults to produce better quality material for children to enjoy.
Will we be seeing any other Roald Dahl stage shows any time soon?
The BSC (Birmingham Stage Company) has produced more stories by Roald Dahl than any other company in the world. Our next Dahl production is being planned for 2012, but we have to keep it secret at the moment!