Review: George’s Marvellous Medicine, Manchester Opera House
It’s not quite panto season yet, but this touring production of George’s Marvellous Medicine ticks a lot of those same boxes where family entertainment is concerned. Adapted from Roald Dahl’s much loved 1981 novel by children’s theatre maestro David Wood, it delivers a generous helping of daft fun and lively spectacle to Manchester Opera House and is pretty much guaranteed to have little ones whooping in their seats.
You’re likely to know the story already. The Krankie family (no, not that lot) live on a farm out in the sticks. When ghastly Grandma drops in for an unscheduled visit, young George resorts to replacing her vital medicine with his own home-made concoction. Will she explode, drop dead, or zoom off the sky? Well, in the event it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Like many of Dahl’s stories – and he knew exactly what he was doing – George’s Marvellous Medicine has a pretty slender plot, around which he drapes an assortment of larks, vivid characters and set-pieces. It terms of stage presentation, it’s a gift. Herein audiences can expect dream sequences, magic spells, shrinking people and oversized animals, up to and including a chase sequence with a giant chicken. There’s also a carefully-deployed line in audience participation which never overwhelms proceedings on stage. It centres on a nifty split-level set which allows the story itself plenty of space in which to play out.
Of the cast, Ed Thorpe is terrific as George, managing to investing him with easy likeability, fizzing energy and a genuine sense of spirit. It’s a neat trick that George’s Mum and Grandma are played by real-life twin sisters. Deborah Vale’s Grandma is a good wheeze, too, but could perhaps do with being even more frightful. No-one wants their children comprehensively traumatised, but after all, it’s the fact that Grandma’s so thoroughly dislikeable that kicks the whole thing off. In all, though, there’s no shortage of twinkly energy up on stage.
It’s all solidly done, rather than awe-inspiring, but there’s much to admire here and it certainly hits the spot. Wood’s adaptation dates back to 2009 and certain touches – set decoration, pop culture references – are beginning to show their age a bit, so a spring-clean wouldn’t hurt. Nevertheless, this is a hoot which stays faithful to Dahl’s tale and knows just how to delight tiny theatre-goers.
George’s Marvellous Medicine is at Manchester Opera House until 19 November 19, 2016. For more information, click here.
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