If any show should come with a ‘do not try this at home’ warning then surely George’s Marvellous Medicine is it. Luckily, David Wood’s lively adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic at the Bloomsbury theatre is just scary enough to stop pharmaceuticals looking like a fun new hobby for children this Christmas.
Produced by The Birmingham Stage Company, George’s Marvellous Medicine is a wickedly mischievous tale staged in a beautiful farmhouse set with plenty of animals, trees and chicken sheds dotted around to transform the Euston-based theatre into a shabby countryside haven.
In this wonky-looking farmhouse, George lives with his cheerful farmer parents. Desperate to finish reading his gruesome book – which sounds not unlike one of Dahl’s creations – George faces disappointment when he finds his half-term holiday plans scuppered with the unexpected arrival of the scariest of all grandmas.
The whiney, grizzly, gin-swilling, horrible old hag makes George’s life a complete misery, forcing the imaginative lad to come up with a plan. If medicines can make people feel better, why shouldn’t they make people act better? With the audience’s help, George creates a very special concoction – with unsavoury ingredients including flea powder, nail vanish, pig pills and paint – to turn Grandma into a sparkling example of old age. But as in all good stories, things don’t go to plan and George creates an even bigger – quite literally in this case – monster.
Wood’s sparkling version loses none of Dahl’s surreal humour and slightly sinister overtones, but manages to be a family friendly show where children can read as much or as little as they’d like into the gruesome story. With talk of bugs, witches, mud and magic, the peculiar character of Grandma is at once frightening and funny, and fantasy montages that show George imagining a perfect Guitar Hero-playing, raving grandma punctuate the occasional slightly darker scenes.
With impressive puppets, amazing special effects and truly magic tricks up its sleeve, George’s Marvellous Medicine perfectly demonstrates that children’s theatre is very rarely as simple as one might expect.