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Matilda the Musical

Roald Dahl Day - Celebrate 100 Years of Dahl on Stage

Dom O'Hanlon
Dom O'Hanlon

Roald Dahl is one of the world's most loved children's writers whose work is known all around the world. Today, 13 September 2016 marks the author's centenary and with it Roald Dahl Day which declares an international celebration of not only the writer's work but also his extended world.

For all his success in book form, Dahl's legacy has extended beyond the page to take in numerous stage, film and live adaptations, and London is currently one of the best places to take in a spot of Dahl inspired theatre. From long-running musical productions such as Matilda and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which continue to play to packed audiences, to past productions of his classic tales such as The Witches and Fantastic Mr Fox, Dahl's innate sense of theatricality means his work glides perfectly into a new form.

To celebrate Roald Dahl Day we take a closer look at the most famous stage adaptations of his work and remember some incredible productions that London has enjoyed, as well as some current and upcoming new work.

Matilda

Arguably the most successful stage production of any of Roald Dahl's stories has the be the Royal Shakespeare Company's musical Matilda, which is set to celebrate its fifth sell-out year in the West End this November. After opening at the RSC's Stratford Upon Avon home in 2011, the show transferred to the Cambridge Theatre in London's West End where it was met with unanimous critical praise and nightly standing ovations. Adapted by David Grieg with a vibrant and modern score by Tim Minchin, the show made stars out of its leading players who went on to share the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical - one of seven Olivier's won by the show that also included the top prize of Best New Musical.

Directed by Matthew Warchus with incredible choreography and staging by Peter Darling, the show found its way into the hearts of audience members who were mesmerised by the innovative staging, jaunty score and Dahl's heart-warming story. The show later transferred to Broadway, opening at the Shubert Theatre in 2013 in a $16million production that saw Bertie Carvel and Lauren Ward reprise their roles as Ms Trunchbull and Miss Honey respectively. It was once again met with equally fond notices and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, losing out on the top prize to Kinky Boots. Dahl's tale about a plucky young underdog who defies not only her parents but also her demonic headmistress was brought spectacularly to life, in what has become a genre defining musical and a perfect example of Dahl's skill at storytelling.

(Matilda the Musical is currently running at the Cambridge Theatre)

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Hot on the heels of Matilda, the first London stage production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory opened in the West End at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane in June 2013. Adapted by David Greig, with an original score by Hairspray composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the production was directed by Sam Mendes, and provided audiences with a high-tech and richly visual insight into the world of Willy Wonka. Having already been seen in the USA on stage under the title Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory in a production based on the Gene Wilder film, Dahl's original story was reclaimed for the London première with more focus on Charlie Bucket. Critics were impressed with the physical production and the performances but some found the original score to be a disappointment when compared to the much-loved Leslie Bricusse version which many people are accustomed to.

The production closes in London in January 2017 but is transferring to Broadway where it will open at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in March 2017. In a recent feature in the New York times it was revealed that the production will have a new director with an updated score by Shaiman and Wittman which will utilise more of the popular songs from the film, allowing audiences to match the new and the old in this classic cautionary tale.

(Charlie and the Chocolate Factory runs at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane to 7 January 2017.)

The Twits

Dahl's dastardly tale of Mr and Mrs Twit, two disgusting creatures who spend their days playing hilariously nasty tricks on each other was originally written in 1979 and is one of his more darker examples of spiky children's fiction. One of the first stage productions was adapted by David Wood, commissioned by the Belgrade Theatre Coventry where it premièred in 1999. Set inside an immersive circus ring, the story came to life in front of audience's eyes using a Ring Master as a narrator and various circus acts to depict each of the tricks. This version toured the UK and landed in London at Sadler's Wells, and continues to be licensed for productions all over the world.

The Royal Court Theatre presented an adaptation 'mischievously adapted' by Irish dramatist Enda Walsh which ran at their Jerwood Theatre Downstairs in 2015. Staged by John Tiffany it was aimed at young people aged 8 and over and was described as being "Grotesque fun" and "Faithful to the anarchic spirit of the original". This year a brand new theatrical dining experience called Dinner With The Twits opens at the Vaults in Waterloo and promises audiences a fully immersive experience that incorporates the drama of the story with experimental chefs in what is being described as "the worst dinner party in the world". The fusion between Dahl's narrative and creative culinary experimentation is expected to result in a highly original dinner theatre experience.

(Dinner at the Twits runs at the Vaults in Waterloo to 30 October 2016)

Fantastic Mr Fox

Just last week a new musical adaptation of Dahl's 1970 book was announced for a UK tour ahead of a longer run at the Lyric Hammersmith in west London. Having previously been seen as a stage play, a film directed by Wes Anderson and even an Opera by Tobias Picker this tale of a tricky fox who outsmarts the dim-witted farmers is family friendly and is stuffed full of exciting stage potential. Arthur Darvill will provide the folk-inspired score for the upcoming new musical which has been adapted for the stage by Sam Holcroft with direction by Maria Aberg. Produced to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Dahl's birth, the musical will no doubt employ a variety of lively theatre techniques to bring the story to life, with exciting design by Tom Scutt hopefully bringing Dahl's work to life in front of our eyes. With an anthropomorphic cast the creative potential is endless and audiences should be prepared to see the classic story in a brand new light.

(Fantastic Mr Fox runs at the Lyric Hammersmith from 25 Jan to 19 Feb 2017)

 

James and the Giant Peach

One of Dahl's first full children's novels has been adapted for the stage numerous times with both the UK and USA providing high profile productions in both musical and play forms. The Birmingham Stage Company have produced David Wood's adaptation numerous times, most recently in a UK tour that was directed by Nikolai Foster with choreography by Drew McOnie and featured a cast of actor-musicians. One of the most high profile musical outings came from American composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul who began working on a large scale musical back in 2004. It premiered in October 2010 at Goodspeed Musicals in Connecticut and was reworked for a production in Seattle in 2014. After the Dear Evan Hansen and Dogfight composers released the cast recording of the show, interest in the project grew - although no plans for a Broadway bow have been released. The colourful cast of animals range from a ladybird to a glowworm, travelling the skies in an oversized fruit that transports James from his horrid Aunt Spiker and Sponge into a brand new world of adventure is a challenging yet exciting stage drama.

 

The Witches

David Wood's stage adaptation of The Witches is one of Dahl's most performed works on stage Originally produced by Clarion Productions at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield in 1992, the production toured the UK and even ran in London's West End for a Christmas season at the Duke of York's Theatre. Further runs at the Vaudeville Theatre as well as central Europe and Scandinavia followed, with audiences enchanted and terrified by the wicked story that sees two boys turned into mice who must overthrow an attempt at Witches destroying children everywhere. The stage production included puppets, illusions and broad humour, creating a memorable show for all the family.

 

The BFG

Dahl's story about the 4-feet-high Big Friendly Giant and his adventures with a little orphan called Sophie features some of his most memorable characters, language and inventions. Having recently been seen on the large screen in a film adaptation by Stephen Spielberg, David Wood's play adaptation was originally performed at Wimbledon Theatre in 1991, followed by a tour and a West End season at the Aldwych in London's West End. The production has since toured the UK and enjoyed a further two runs in London, as well as further adaptations specifically for children's theatre as well as a puppet version for young audiences.

 

George's Marvellous Medicine

One of Dahl's shorter stories, the tale of George and his Grandma who tastes his concoction and decided to try and sell it all around the world has delighted younger readers particularly thanks to Dahl's vivid descriptions of all the ingredients used to create his potion. A new production of the play is currently touring thanks to the Birmingham Stage Company, and is directed by Phil Clark. Described as being "fizzticklig fun and wizzpopping magic for all the family", this colourful story comes with a warning for younger audiences - don't try this at home!

 

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