Stage: The BFG – Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
IF YOU enjoyed last year’s KickstArt production of Welsh-born author Roald Dahl’s James and The Giant Peach be prepared for an even b-i-g-g-e-r and better treat with this year’s dollop of Dahl from Durban’s acclaimed production company.
The BFG (Big Friendly Giant, for those not in the know), is probably one of the best children’s shows yet from the multiple-award-winning company, and it’s all thanks to a talented, versatile cast and the colourful vision and keen sense of fun and mischief of Greg King.
After having given us James and the Giant Peach last year, King has designed and directed the new production, a stage adaptation by David Wood, which is based on the 1982 children’s book by Dahl, who also wrote the children’s story successes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and The Witches.
King creates a colourful world of fun, humour and surprises, as well as poignancy, as he imaginatively, and very cleverly, unfolds the tale of a little orphan in London, Sophie. She meets and befriends a nameless giant who plucks her from her orphanage bedroom window one night, takes her to his world and then leads her on a journey highlighting dreams, nightmares and a splash of British royalty.
The fun starts as soon as one arrives in the theatre, where British Bobbies with torches welcome you in the aisles. Simultaneously, miniature, illuminated houses and a church, as well as a moving London bus, dominate a dappled stage where Bobbies on the beat patrol between homes from which rod-puppet Londoners come and go. It’s pure enchantment!
To the left of the stage, under a giant crescent moon in a starry sky, on a bed under a large window, we meet Sophie (Belinda Henwood in glasses, pigtails and PJs).
She gets to meet the BFG – a big-eared fellow with a gentle heart – when he peeps through her window, then whisks her off to his world to face three nasty giants who eventually get their comeuppance when Sophie encourages the BFG to get help from Queen Elizabeth.
The BFG (neatly played by Bryan Hiles, with shorn head and bushy eyebrows) explains to Sophie (later depicted as a cute puppet co-operated by Henwood and Clare Mortimer) that he is a keeper of dreams, which he blows over sleeping people. He also collects them and places them in jars of radiant colour to distribute to others.
Dahl’s world, under King’s Midas Touch, is a wonderful realm where fabric becomes cloud and sea; where the shuffling around of house props conjures the illusion of movement and flight. It’s a world where performances, puppetry, atmospheric orchestral music, tons of witty wordplay, loads of humour (wait for the frenzy of whizzpoppers!) and constant play on perspective allow imagination to paint a tale of wonder and good cheer.
Supporting performances are exemplary from a cast featuring Lyle Buxton, Mpilo ‘Straw’ Nzimande, Clare Mortimer and an amusing Daisy Spencer, all of them in multiple roles.
I loved Buxton as the blonde Queen of Sweden and as head of the British Army. Also of note are Mortimer’s Queen Elizabeth and Nzimande’s head of the British Air Force. However, it’s Spencer, hilarious as a reluctant dancing teacher (a big highlight of the show), and also as a funny ugly giant and as a flamboyant maid to Queen Elizabeth, who steals most scenes.
Featuring costumes designed by Steven Stead, well lit (as always) by Tina le Roux and with sound design by Ross van Wyk and musical direction by Jason Bird, The BFG is sheer bliss.
It is a whacky, scrumdillyumptious package of entertainment that anyone young at heart, with or without children, simply has to see this holiday season. It runs until July 8 and performances are scheduled for Tuesday to Friday at 2:30pm, Saturday at 11am and 3pm, and Sunday at 2:30pm.
Ticket prices range from R130 to R190 for adults, and R110 to R160 for pensioners and children under the age of 12. Booking is at Computicket.