Expecting the unexpected

If I had to pick just one author to read for the rest of my life, it would be Roald Dahl.

I enjoy just about everything he’s ever written, for children and adult alike, and can find something new upon every reread. As a child, I simply loved the tales; as an adult I marvel at how much he packed into so few words. He’s horrible and hilarious, the qualities I most prize in an author.

Above all, I consider him a master of the short story, a literary form I especially cherish (perfect for bedtime and short commutes). It took me awhile to track them all down in pre-Amazon days of yore, and each time I found a new one, I’d blissfully sink into it like a warm bubble bath. One that might have some nasty surprise in it of course… I’m stumped to think of any Dahl story that doesn’t have at least a hint of the macabre.

So I was very excited when I discovered that, for the first time, several of his short stories were being adapted for the stage – and by Jeremy Dyson to boot, who I consider the League’s cutest Gentleman (and OF COURSE, the one you hardly ever get to see!). I had to go, and before Twisted Tales‘ six-week run ended (on Feb. 26) at the Lyric Hammersmith.

Last night, thanks to a dear friend (and future Playmate, or so he claims), as well as A Night Less Ordinary, me and Miss Thropist got to see it for free. I thoroughly enjoyed myself – even if I had paid for my ticket, it would have been totally worth it.

The production felt true to the spirit of the source material, while also League of Gentleman-ish. (I never realised how much Dahl has clearly influenced their work.) The stage was dark and swirly misty, with retro set pieces (matched by period costuming) and neat revolving thingummies that ensured seamless transitioning between scenes – and added to the dreamy, anecdotal atmosphere. (Sidenote: I saw Ghost Stories a couple of weeks ago, which Dyson co-wrote and debuted at the Lyric last year – hadn’t realised this was a “sequel” of sorts to that production, on reflection it does feel like a cousin.)

The play faithfully tackled five of Dahl’s short stories, framing four with the fifth. I had fun recognising the stories as they came up, and you may enjoy that too, so skip the next paragraph if you don’t want to know what they are and in what order they occur.

The framing story is “Galloping Foxley”, which mainly takes place on a train or accompanying platforms. A trio of contented commuters have their routine disrupted by a stranger full of stories: “The Landlady”, “Mrs Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat”, “Man from the South”, and “William and Mary”.

The roles were played by a septet of performers: Jonathan DancigerNick FletcherSelina Griffiths,Alexandra MaherLarry McCartneyGeorge Rainsford andTrevor White. They all seemed perfectly cast for their multiple roles,whether the bad guy or the sucker (and just about all of them got to play both types). Griffiths had the most striking, expressive face, which served her particularly well as the taxidermy-obsessed Landlady.

My favourite moment though, had to be when Fletcher, as the titular Man from the South, lovingly licked a meat cleaver. It was enhanced by Fletcher’s in-the-blink-an-eye transition to the bitter, wheelchairbound William (of “and Mary”). Such quirky details and effortless dramatic switches added up to an engrossing whole.

The dramatic peaks for me occurred during the lighter scene in “Man from the South” – even though I knew the outcome, it didn’t make it any easier to watch such high stakes play out – and when a boazer (senior public schoolboy) beats a fag (a more junior student/personal slave) in “Galloping Foxley”.

And of course the explosive finale, which for an avid Dahl fan such as myself, would be the only truly unexpected event. Nonetheless, I was satisfied by how things were wrapped up.

Afterwards, the audience was invited to an informal Q&A with the performers and (assistant?) director (but sadly no Dyson), in which they offered insight into the workshopping process, and touched upon whether there would be another Twisted Tales production, featuring more of Dahl’s stories.

I thought this edition was very well self-contained, although I would have liked at least one more story (“This Way Up to Heaven” would have fit in very nicely, I reckon, or perhaps “Pig” for some diversity). So I wouldn’t be averse to seeing more Dahl stories presented on stage, especially by Dyson. (And next time I want him to be at the Q&A, goddammit.)

I highly commend Twisted Tales – catch it before it’s gone!

4 thoughts on “Expecting the unexpected

  1. I loved the possible interweaving multiplicity of the character’s arcs, on the almost subconscious level: the taxidermy landlady who is seemingly obsessed with the preservation of life, (particularly young men), who then, in another tale, plays slightly bitter clingy widow to her husband’s brain in tank (were any of the names in the ledger William?). The dental surgeon who is perhaps burnt from his unfaithful spouse who then plays the warped experimental doctor in the next. The child narrator expressing the importance of developing ones imagination, and the possible outcomes of failing (or perhaps succeeding?) to do so – we are left to ponder. I think the last framing tale might have been nicer scattered throughout, but like they said, they did have rather a lot of costume changes.

    Wish I’d asked what the clock was about. I believe it was only used once to show an unnatural passing of time? Is it a motif in the original texts?

  2. i don’t think the clock has a specific connection to the stories, tho in several specific times are certainly a feature. i guess it enhanced the train setting, as well as the flashbacks and forwards. perhaps there was a clock in the tv adaptation – which i now want to see! you should have so asked about the clock!

    i think i answered my own unasked question after some thought, about whether or not they would swap roles throughout the (final version of the) production… i think probably not, because of the technical changes, and the echoing of roles, as you pointed out. griffiths and fletcher were often couples with a twisted relationship, mccartney (canadian) was usually the outsider character, and poor maher (other woman) was the most peripheral.

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