Known for his powerful imagination and captivating children’s stories, it is almost as if Roald Dahl’s books were made for the stage. With extravagant characters, each tale is uniquely different and bursting with magic.
The Leicester Curve’s theatrical production of George’s Marvellous Medicine is currently touring the UK telling the story of young George and his nasty Grandma. When his parents leave him alone with his eccentric and nagging Grandma, he takes the moment to seek revenge and conjure up a medicine that will cure her of her cruelty.
Lisa Howard, who plays Grandma in the show, spoke to me about bringing the adventurous tale to the stage. “It’s been really nice to play a Roald Dahl character with a bit of a twist,” she said. “In the book she is a bit of an old lady who is rather old fashioned but in our version she is very glamorous – a bit Joan Collins. We are digging out bits of the text where she is very vain and horrible to Mary her daughter and just rather selfish, vain and demanding.” This production is taking strong inspiration from the book, but modernising the family. The Grandma is addicted to gin and telling people what to do, believing she is the queen bee.
First approaching the role to find truth in the character, Lisa wanted to explore what made Grandma who she is. Arriving at the family home after a day of travelling without a drink of gin, she is extremely bad-tempered. “I wanted to know why someone was so vain that they don’t care about their children or grandchildren,” she said. “Then we also had to add that supernatural and surreal element in because after taking the medicine she grows very large, making me question whether or not she is a witch, because I believe George thinks she might be.”
Roald Dahl stories have been being made into productions for years, and they’re still so relevant today, enchanting children across the UK and beyond. “What I like about Roald Dahl is that there is a dark side there and a surreal nature that appeals to me,” she said. “He isn’t necessarily writing stories for the world we live in, and I like that it sparks children’s imaginations as he doesn’t shy away from being really frightening – which gave me licence to be a truly horrible Grandma.”
As an author he is clever in the way that he puts the children in charge and at the centre of the story. His stories aren’t afraid of bad things happening to children which is a bit like real life, and that’s what Lisa feels is what children really identify with. “It isn’t a fairy tale ending as we sometimes perceive children’s stories to have,” she explained.
“Theatre is important for children or anyone and the sooner you start going, the better, as it opens up whole new world.”
With the use of audience participation, they have made the production immense amounts of fun. “George makes the audience a bit complicit in making the mixture because he starts by throwing things in but then begins to ask the audience what he should put in,” she said. “It really brings the audience into play and they feel very much on side with George and his family.”
Working in theatre, there is probably nothing better than seeing an audience full of kids laughing and engaging with a story on stage. Asking Lisa why she thinks children’s theatre is so important she explained: “Nikolai Foster who is the Artistic Director of the Curve gave a speech and what he said really struck home with me. He said, they don’t make children’s theatre, they make theatre and some of it is for families, adults, children or anyone.
“What I love is the reaction of adults and children together and when they’re all in the same audience it’s brilliant as you get a smattering of different reactions at different times. Children love seeing their parents laughing and understanding someone just as much as parents love watching their children enjoy something. I believe in theatre for everybody.”
George’s Marvellous Medicine is on at the Lowry in Salford from the 20th to the 24th of February, tickets and information can be found here.