THE B F G
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 2nd December, 2014
The REP’s big Christmas show this year is David Wood’s adaptation of a Roald Dahl novel – not one of his strongest but containing the quintessential elements of a Dahl classic nevertheless: horrible villains, a downtrodden but virtuous child protagonist, nonsensical words, and some scary moments.
Director Teresa Ludovico throws everything at the stage in the first act to bring Giant Country to life, with music, movement, masks and mime… There are circus skills and gigantic legs and hands – it’s like a bonkers Italian variety show rather the traditional fare and it works! Especially in the transmission of the darkness and horror that runs through Dahl’s slender tale.
Lara Wollington (a former Matilda) is excellent as perky orphan Sophie. Abducted by a giant (in a terrifying sequence) she soon befriends him and he reveals he’s not like other giants in that he refuses to eat the flesh of human children. Weirdo. Shunned by his peers, he faces the type of scorn and derision usually doled out to Vegans by meat-eating brutes. Wollington is nothing short of perfect in the role. She has a strong, clear and expressive voice, bags of energy and performs the quirky, jerky, sometimes balletic, movements with ease and ability.
In his Frankenstein footwear and waistcoat this Big Friendly Giant looks like a lecturer from Middle Earth Polytechnic but Joshua Manning fulfils this tall order superbly well, making the titular character a likeable sort and managing the mangled language with ease. He may not be all that B of a G but he is certainly F. With the aid of sound effects and the clever use of perspective, he stomps around, leading his new little friend through a series of moments, each of them beautifully staged by a talented and versatile ensemble, who will backflip as soon as look at you.
It’s all gloriously theatrical, a cavalcade of the performing arts, and carried off with such brio you are willing to overlook the fact that it’s largely padding to eke out the story until the interval.
In the second act we move from Giant Country to Buckingham Palace and the bedroom of Her Majesty the Queen of England. Here, Sophie does a Michael Fagan, breaking in to warn Her Maj of impending giant-sized disaster. Mike Goodenough’s Queen may resemble Benny Hill more than that lady off of the postage stamps but he’s more than good enough – a restrained panto dame who gets the funniest lines, which he delivers with pouting relish.
The other giants are left (largely) to the imagination and this makes them all the scarier.. Huge shadows are thrown across the backdrop and sometimes hands and feet appear. It’s what we don’t see that scares us and talk of bones found outside an orphanage is particularly gruesome.
Hats off to the technical team. Set and costume designer Robert Innes Hopkins, along with lighting by Peter Mumford, gives the piece a dreamscape quality, with mists and shadows contrasted with bursts of vibrant colour. Frank Moon and Martin Riley’s unconventional score is played live under the musical direction of Riley himself on keyboards. Percussionist Tom Chapman and guitarist Tom Durham are accompanied at various points by cast members on a range of instruments. It all adds to the atmosphere and above all the fun.
Stylish and surreal, this BFG is an enjoyable alternative to the usual pantomimes on offer, a theatrical banquet with plenty to satisfy everyone.