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Theatre review: Roald Dahl's Twisted Tales 
27th-Jan-2011 10:54 pm
My thirteenth show of the year and rather appropriately it's Roald Dahl's Twisted Tales. It's an 80-minute portmanteau show without an interval, produced by the Lyric Hammersmith and Liverpool Playhouse theatres and written by Jeremy Dyson so it's hard not to compare it to last year's big hit (still running in the West End,) Ghost Stories. Here though the basis is Roald Dahl's collection of macabre short stories. Most people seem to love Dahl's children's stories but many are unaware of these more adult tales. I seem to be an exception as Matilda, The Witches et al were completely absent from my childhood but through Tales of the Unexpected I was a huge fan of these stories. So were Dyson and director Polly Findlay who bring five of the tales to the stage. Naturally there's a framing device holding them together, as a mysterious man tells a group of commuters a different story every morning on the train.

I won't say which stories they are but I will say they're among the better-known ones, or in any case they were all ones I remembered, so I knew the twists pretty much as soon as each story started but it didn't take away from my enjoyment because Findlay and an enthusiastic cast keep the action going frenetically but then, crucially, also know exactly when to slow things right down and create tension where you could hear a pin drop. There's a few shrieks from the audience but not because of something jumping out of the shadows - it's more a case of the action winding people up to the point where they suddenly need to let it out. One thing that made me think of Ghost Stories was how James Farncombe (who also lit that show) has put his experience there to good use again, the atmospheric lighting is outstanding. Unlike last year's show though the stage is much more densely populated, each of the six actors taking on multiple roles. This includes Big Favourite Round These Parts, George Rainsford, who spends an entire segment in an unbuttoned shirt and tiny, tiny shorts.

That photo is actually unflattering as it looks as if he might have an ounce of fat on him but seriously, he is just ridiculously toned. The pecs, they are hypnotic. And Rainsford seems to wear marginally less clothing in every play I see him in, so on current reckoning I should be able to look forward to the full frontal sometime around summer 2013.

Anyway, back to the show which I went to with Andy, which handily gives anyone reading this a nice counterpoint as he came into it the opposite of me: A fan on Dahl's kids' books but not even aware that these tales existed until now. He also loved the macabre little stories and was keen to get the books now that he's seen the show. Funnily enough the one story he already knew was the only one I didn't, as the wraparound is based partly on an anecdote from Dahl's autobiography Boy, which Andy's read but I haven't. Although the stories are famous for the "twist in the tale," they're not always that unexpected - sometimes, as in the first story that gets adapted here, the audience is well ahead of the hapless protagonist and the thrill is in queasily following as things go horribly wrong for him. Both of us agreed that this was better than Ghost Stories (and we both loved that) and this is the first show this year that had a real buzz to it and that I'd happily recommend.

There was a post-show Q&A tonight, which we stayed for as the show itself is quite short so it wasn't that late. Assistant Director Cathal Cleary talked to the five adult cast members; Andy wouldn't quite go with my suggestion that we go to the front row so I could dribble over George Rainsford but we ended up third row of the stalls for this, so close enough. He's a Guiness drinker, if that gets anyone going. Well I don't know, it takes all sorts. The writer and director not being there meant some questions about the show's development had to go unanswered, but the fact that it apparently underwent massive changes (especially with regard to the wraparound story) in previews meant the actors had some interesting insights. Some were to do with the revolve, which in the show as it is now is very slickly used to get set and actors on and offstage, but which the actors had almost zero rehearsal time with, meaning early previews were a bit more precarious. So we heard how Rainsford made the mistake of coming out by the same doors as the audience after the first performance, only to overheard them making fun of them wobbling on and off the revolve; while Selina Griffiths (from Cranford) shared how one of her exits had to be reblocked as there was no way she could stay on the moving revolve in stiletto heels. As these Q&As often are, a fun addition to a good evening.

Roald Dahl's Twisted Tales by Roald Dahl, adapted by Jeremy Dyson is booking until the 26th of February at the Lyric Hammersmith; then from 16-26th of March at Northern Stage, Newcastle; and 30th of March to 23rd of April at Liverpool Playhouse.
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