Hands up who remembers George’s Marvellous Medicine? Perhaps one of the less famous of Roald Dahl’s stories, its simple plot is a good fit for a stage performance. So it was with high hopes that we set out for Kingston-Upon-Thames’ Rose Theatre, for the press performance of the show.
The Rose traditionally performs adaptations of Roald Dahl tales over Easter. The previous two we’ve seen, The Witches and The Twits were also Curve Leicester co-productions, and those stage versions managed to capture the twists and turns of the stories without making the 90-minute performances seem cluttered. With George’s Marvellous Medicine, the transition from book to stage seemed even more seamless.
There were a few changes to the original plot in David Wood’s adaptation. The story follows George, who is hideously terrorised by his ghastly Grandma. But in this stage version, it isn’t just George whom Grandma picks upon. She’s also beastly to George’s Dad, and his Mum, her own daughter. This makes the end of the story less harsh. To get his own back on Grandma, George concocts a potion that makes her grow into a gargantuan version of herself. George’s next potion makes her shrink so much that she disappears – and the family decide they’re better off without her.
That’s a bit easier to stomach when Grandma’s been bullying all three of them. Harder to digest, though, were some of the potion’s ingredients. Round the Bend toilet cleaner, brown gloss paint, Dad’s gin … Roald Dahl was an anarchic genius to make children’s entertainment out of an evil Grandma being fed potentially lethal substances. Dahl gets away with it – but this performance is peppered with warnings about how the children in the audience ‘shouldn’t try this at home’.
The special effects in George’s Marvellous Medicine were less polished than some of the Rose Theatre’s other performances. At one point, there was a little pause in the show while the crew fixed a technical problem. But the acting was remarkable, especially that of Preston Nyman as George. He managed to convey earnest youth so well that we were completely on his side when he decided to make his ‘medicine’. Grandma, played by Lisa Howard, was a filthy, camp old woman with sparkly pink trainers, who convincingly transformed into ‘fun’ Grandma in one of the show’s interludes where George’s imagination takes over. George and Grandma danced around, dabbing and talking about playing together on a Nintendo Switch. The imaginary Grandma even went so far as to offer George £20 pocket money (we’re talking Kingston-Upon-Thames prices here).
Of all three Roald Dahl stories we’ve seen performed at the Rose, George’s Marvellous Medicine was the one that was a huge hit with both my six year old daughter and my eight year old son. Tasha Taylor-Johnson’s rich compositions brought musical energy to the show. Chandni Mistry (Chicken), Catherine Morris (George’s Mum), Justin Wilman (George’s Dad) and, of course, Preston Nyman as George, brought heart. Lisa Howard as Grandma brought spice with a dash of bitters – and Hey Presto. You have the perfect mixture for a great children’s show.
George’s Marvellous Medicine is at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-Upon-Thames until Saturday 7 April 2018. It is suitable for the over-5s. Ticket prices range from £10 to £30. We were invited to watch the performance for the purpose of this review.