George’s Marvellous Medicine at the HexagonBy Phil Creighton
February 10, 2010
The Hexagon, Reading
(0118) 960 6060
Wonder cure – George’s Marvellous Medicine sees a boy create a magic tonic that was intended to make his grandma better
If you take your children to go and see a play by David Wood (pictured), then he promises you a thrilling experience of the stage.
“I’m trying to give them exciting theatre now,” he says. “The future isn’t my concern for doing it.
“Trying to get a show to really work for children gives me tremendous excitement.”
The veteran playwright and children’s entertainer (I remember him doing All Star Record Breakers when I was a tot, followed a few years later by Tricky Business in the late 1980s) knows a thing or two about creating the type of theatre that every child will remember and enjoy, making them fans of the stage today and hoping that the theatregoing habit will continue as they grow up.
As well as his own plays, he’s adapted a wealth of books, including Spot and a brace of Roald Dahl classics. His latest production, George’s Marvellous Medicine comes to The Hexagon next week on the early stages of a national tour.
“It’s an iconic book, a favourite book,” he says. “Being faithful to it is important, but you don’t need to be slavish. A play is a very different animal to a book.
“A lot of people assume it’s easy to adapt a book – but it’s a task,” he continues, citing that you have to make decisions based on the limitations of the stage against the unlimited imagination of a book.
“It might be impossible to have a large cast,” he explains thinking of the constraints of the stage, “but getting the spirit [of the book] is important so that people don’t say ‘That wasn’t the book’.”
David gives me an example based on another Dahl favourite The Witches, a sublime, but very dark fantasy.
“A child wrote to me and said, ‘Mr Dahl would be annoyed that you changed the ending of the book’,” he says. The hero is turned into a mouse and remains in that state – it’s a happy ending but not quite the one you’d expect.
“This child was wrong … he’d seen the film and at the end of that he turns back in to a boy. I was able to write back and say my ending was the same as Mr Dahl’s.” David playfully goes ‘nah-nah-nah-nah-nah’ down the phone. Although he’s joking with his response, it shows how seriously he takes the task of adapting these books.
David did change the ending of The BFG: “I decided that the original wasn’t theatrically exciting,” he confesses. “I did that more than 20 years ago and never had one letter complaining about the ending.
“I’m not trying to be smug about it” – he’s not, he’s warm, witty and intelligent – “but it works. That’s the kind of decision you have to make all the time.”
And it’s not as if he pushes through these decisions on a whim: he has to ensure that the copyright holder, is pleased with the script before it goes into production.
He’s looking forward to Reading audiences seeing George’s Marvellous Medicine next week. The production will see two local schoolgirls take on roles after auditions were held last week (see p18 of the Reading Post for more).
“It’s a very nice play and [The Birmingham Stage Company] have done a great job. I’m very pleased.”
The play follows George as he seeks to create a medicine to make his sick, abusive and nasty grandmother better. However, George’s concoction – made from all manner of stuff from the kitchen cupboards – has a very different affect, creating more trouble along the way.
One of the things that attracts David to Dahl’s work is his understanding of a child’s sense of justice.
“In George, we wouldn’t be happy for him [to create the medicine] unless his grandmother wasn’t a real monster,” David says.
“We see her lack of gratitude and unpleasantness to both the parents and George wants to make her better – and by that he means nicer. I think he is genuinely trying to make her better … to make her a nicer person.”
As well as having a firm grip on George’s motives, he also recognises his appeal to children in the audience. “They immediately identify with him,” he says.
David thinks that the play is suitable for children aged six upwards, but “Dahl’s age range is very wide. People of an adult age would be happy to go along because you go along with affection for the books.”
Play writing aside, David is an actor and a magician – in Tricky Business, he helped set up a magic shop with Bernie Clifton.
I wonder if he’s ever tempted to use his skills to get out of paying for bills in restaurants by magicing the money away?
“I don’t do a lot of close-up magic,” he confesses. “I don’t suddenly make salt disappear.” He pauses and thinks.
“Maybe I should,” he chuckles.
“It’s far more interesting!”
David will perform a magic show for children at The Watermill in Newbury on Saturday, February 27, at 11am. Tickets cost £5 and are available by calling 01635 46044 or logging on to www.watermill.org.uk.