If you’ve read George’s Marvellous Medicine, you’ll know it features a grandma who gets bigger in size and bursts through the roof when she drinks a medicine concocted by her grandson George, and then later shrinks until she disappears. Not to mention farm yard animals growing and shrinking, and George racing around his house adding all manner of ingredients to the potion he is creating in revenge for his grandmother being so mean.
Roald Dahl’s 1981 book is so imaginatively vivid, I wasn’t sure how well such a well-loved classic would translate to stage.
Brilliantly, as it happens. That’s our conclusion, after seeing Birmingham Stage Company’s touring production of George’s Marvellous Medicine at the New Theatre, Cardiff last night.
Playing to a pretty-much sold out audience, the production is fast-paced and vibrant. It kept 6¾-year-old Little Miss E and 5-year-old Little Man O entertained for its one hour and a half hour running length, not to mention me too.
The stage show was adapted from the book by David Wood – who has taken eight Dahl classics to the stage, as well as a host of other children’s favourites – and directed by Phil Clark, who again has a wealth of experience of children’s theatre under his belt. They pitch the production just right, with plenty of audience participation, lots of humour and fantastic special effects.
Deborah Vale plays the aforementioned Grandma. She’s every bit as mean as the Grandma in the book, shrieking and moaning at George and complaining about everything. You can tell she is having great fun playing the part.
Her real-life identical twin sister Tessa Vale plays her on-stage daughter, George’s mum, while Richard Mullins is the dad. They’re a great team, bouncing well off each other, with Mullins in particular providing plenty of laughs.
Ed Thorpe is our hero George – the glint in his eye and his dishevelled red hair make him perfect for the role of the wannabe chemist as he runs around the house adding various lotions and powders to the medicine he is creating to replace his Grandma’s usual and teach her a lesson for her cruel and rude behaviour.
It was great to see actual liquids and powders in all the bottles and jars George was tipping into his oversized pan. The sound effects matched the pouring and ingredients combining – although I was never quite sure whether the smoke coming out was a natural reaction or an effect. I would have loved to have seen what was going on in the actual bowl.
Some of the scenes were depictions of what is going on in George’s mind, as he imagined what it would be like to truly scare his Grandma, or to have a kind and caring Grandma. This scene in particular was brilliant, as Grandma starts singing funky songs and dancing around the stage. I was pleased to see my children understood what was going on here, with the dipped lighting helping to distinguish between real-life and George’s imagination.
As I mentioned, the props and special effects were great, in particular the giant bull’s head bursting through a door and Grandma growing up out of her chair and through the roof, as well as shrinking back down again and disappearing.
My children were debating on the way home exactly how the production team managed to do make Grandma grow. They had many theories. And isn’t that the point of theatre? Leaving in awe of what you have just witnessed, live, on the stage in front of you?
George’s Marvellous Medicine is fantastic family entertainment – we loved it.
George’s Marvellous Medicine is at New Theatre Cardiff until Saturday 29th October.
Thursday and Friday, 2pm and 7pm; Saturday 10.30am and 2.30pm. Limited tickets available.
*Thanks to the New Theatre for review tickets for this performance.
The show is currently touring the UK – full dates here.