Maybe future production teams wanting to put on Macbeth should consider using the lines ‘Fizzle, swizzle and shout hooray!’, rather than the more traditional ‘Double, double toil and trouble’, since it certainly got the audience at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal more animated than I have ever seen one whilst watching a Shakespeare play. In fact, maybe it is just due to the pure joy of being, for two hours, back in that world of mayhem that can only belong to Roald Dahl, or because, let’s face it, no matter how old you are, everyone loves a bit of mischief at Grandma’s expense.
To fill in any of you with Roald Dahl-less childhoods (although I am wondering what on earth you were doing), George’s Marvellous Medicine tells the story of George who, to get back at his vile Grandma, exchanges her prescribed medicine for his own concoction, one which has far more exciting effects. Anything and everything George can get his hands on goes into the potion, so, when the first batch is an absolute hit, the challenge becomes the recreation of an exact replica of the original recipe.
“I especially struggled to imagine how the production team could possibly manage to show an expanding Grandma…feasibly on stage”
To be honest, the book does not lend itself to theatre, not just because there are technical difficulties in making the post-medicine supernatural changes look credible, but also because a large part of the story focuses on listing, and later remembering, all the unpleasant household items to put in the saucepan-cum-cauldron. I must admit that, before going, I especially struggled to imagine how the production team could possibly manage to show an expanding Grandma and giant chickens feasibly on stage. However, David Wood and Phil Clark did a brilliant job dealing with these issues, whilst all the while remaining very loyal to both the phrasing in the book and the bizarre spiralling events of the plot. The medicine development became a pantomime-style interactive section of the play which the children in the audience really enjoyed and Grandma’s dress just kept expanding – she certainly could’ve given Aunt Marge a run for her money.
“Knowing that at any moment Grandma’s shadow could appear behind the curtain added an extra level of mischievous excitement too”
The stage was set out as a muddled family farmhouse, with Grandma’s cold blue room serving as a clear visual reminder of her icy cold nature. It was the perfect set for the play, since it meant Grandma was always on stage and had a presence, a clever idea which developed much more of an idea of urgency and necessity to George’s plans. Watching and knowing that at any moment Grandma’s shadow could appear behind the curtain added an extra level of mischievous excitement too. Equally, the props were also very impressive, in particular the varieties of deformed chickens which stretched, contorted and danced round the stage.
“the slapstick humour and the audience interaction are aimed at a much younger audience”
Nevertheless, it is important to hammer home that this is a play for children, so don’t go under any false illusions. This meant all the jokes, the slapstick humour and the audience interaction are aimed at a much younger audience, and there weren’t the sarcastic, adult-directed asides than you might find in a Christmas pantomime. I definitely felt that I stuck out as someone who fitted neither into the age bracket or mothers and fathers, nor into the masses of primary school aged children in the theatre.
So, my advice? Grab someone you know under the age of ten, friends with a mental age of under ten count too, and take them, so you have no reservations about egging George on just as loudly as the rest of the audience.
Image credit: Anna Seton
‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ runs at the Theatre Royal until Saturday 22nd October. For more information and to book tickets, see here.