There’s no two ways about it: in the field of children’s literature, Roald Dahl is, well, a giant.

Regular as clockwork, every major new novelist for young readers is garlanded as ‘the new Roald Dahl‘. The BFG is one of Dahl’s very best-loved books (even if, for this writer, it’s all a bit talky at times). Apparently Steven Spielberg is currently at work on a big-screen version to star Mark Rylance as the big fella, but they’re going to have their work cut out conjuring up an adaptation quite as wondrous as this.

The major hurdle, of course, is that the main characters – little Sophie (played here at Bolton Octagon by Macy Nyman) and the BFG himself (John Seaward) – are at opposite ends of the size scale, but both need to fit on the same stage. In a feat of lateral thinking, Nyman mostly operates a tiny puppet Sophie while Seaward appears life-size. In fact, puppetry comes into this production a lot, which helps to bring its more fanciful moments to life. There’s a great deal of invention all round, up to and including the Queen of England contacting other monarchs via an outsized iPad. A full-on dream sequence is another brilliantly-staged highlight.

The BFG at Bolton OctagonThe cast are clearly having a whale of a time, and throw in plenty of bits of comic business. Sarah Finigan, who plays a range of female authority figures up to and including Her Majesty, brings a keen sense of silliness. Nyman is a sweet, likeable Sophie – not, when it comes down to it, a particularly meaty role, and as the BFG himself, Seaward is engaging and tremendously watchable throughout, lending the big man a winning warmth and an unexpected lightness of touch.

It’s really all about the friendship between the pair of them. The plot, such as it is, doesn’t go very far, though that’s really Dahl’s fault. His books are never really about page-turning narratives. Their strengths lie elsewhere, in curious scenarios and sparkling characters. Here, some fiendish giants need seeing off, and they will be pretty scary to tiny audience members, but it’s really just a hook to hang proceedings on. It would be uncharitable to point out that the dramatic denouement, when it comes, is something of a damp squib, particularly as the closing scene between the BFG and Sophie is really quite spellbinding.

All told, this Christmas production hits the spot with aplomb, translating all the wonder and fun at the heart of Dahl’s original book right onto the stage. If you’re looking to give little ones a festive theatre experience, you’ll be in very safe hands here. All concerned have done great work, and it’s guaranteed to delight.

By Andy Murray

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The BFGWhat: The BFG

Where: Octagon Theatre, Bolton

When: until January 9, 2015

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