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Tuesday 4th December 2007
Christmas Theatre Review | THE BFG | Polka Theatre

Production: The BFG
Playwright: Roald Dahl, adapted by David Wood
Producer: Polka Theatre
Venue: Polka Theatre
Address: 240 The Broadway, Wimbledon, London SW19 1SB
Box Office: 240 The Broadway, Wimbledon, London SW19 1SB
Dates: 9 November 2007 - 9 February 2008
Opened: 14 November 2007
Buy Theatre Tickets from Ticketmaster
Reviewed by Claire Ingrams

"Is you believing yer gogglers?" There's a giant on the loose at the Polka Theatre, a dream-blowing giant, striding across the stage and into the festive season. It's Roald Dahl's Big Friendly Giant, a story which, in the experienced hands of adaptor David Wood and director Roman Stefanski, is as delumptious as it should be; a sure-fire whizzpopper of a Christmas show for lucky 5-10 year olds.

Little orphan Sophie a down-to earth Susan Harrison, perfect in specs is snatched from her horrible orphanage in the dead of night, the witching hour. Cue black shadow looming larger and yet larger against a gauzy backcloth, pushed suddenly aside by a massive hand, bigger than any man. Perspective zooms in and out; as the giant becomes actor-sized, Sophie shrinks to a small puppet, scooped up in his cloak and taken on a fantastic journey, gliding past moving landscapes, back to the land of the Giants.

Painted backcloths, stage wings receding into the distance; this is Theatre, but not as we adults are allowed to know it any more. The scene actually changes, we visit different places, we are not musicals being the exception stuck in an industrial shed with a few packing cases all evening.

These pale flats and gauzes, inked with spare Quentin Blake-esque designs come courtesy of Designer Keith Baker. He has turned the stage into a plain cardboard box of tricks, a Pollocks theatre without the rococo twirls. The puppetry is a speciality of this theatre, particularly of this director. Its simplicity the puppets are always manipulated in full view, nothing is hidden is actually remarkably sophisticated; it has the confidence to let children see how effects are created, not to hoodwink them. It expects them to make a leap of faith. After all, that is what theatre is.

With children's theatre there is always a risk of some OTT acting, probably, let's face it, because children love it, but in Tim Barlow, this production has a beautifully judged BFG. Gentle and gruffly reticent, he never pandered to his young audience; he was his own giant. If he occasionally slowed the pace down, it was not surprising with Dahl's gloriumptious, hopscotchy language to negotiate.

There are so many imaginative things to enjoy in an adaptation that is extremely faithful to what must be one of Dahl's best books. From the wall of glass jars, full of dreams and pulsing with colour, which the BFG collects to blow into children's bedrooms at night, to the wicked man-eating giants with their misshapen potato heads blundering down the theatre aisles to look for juicy 'human beans'. (Don't worry, they didn't pick on any hysterical 5 year olds: they snatched little dollies from the ushers and proceeded to tear red ribbons from their insides, to much glee from the audience.)

There was a nice, dry Queen from Erika Poole, somewhat surprised to see a vast giant's head looking through her window, but rallying fast, and a funny knockabout turn from Alan Atkins (Head of the Air Force) and David Broughton-Davies (Head of the Army).

With all this and plenty of whizzpops, there can't be many children who would not enjoy the show. As Christmas gets nearer and the production gathers a little more momentum, I predict that the BFG will be going down like a bottle of frobscottle. (That's good, by the way it's the snozzcumbers you want to avoid).

Claire Ingrams 2007

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