Thursday 14 December 2017

George's Marvellous Medicine

Curve, Leicester
13th December, 2017

The finale of David Wood’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic urges the audience to ‘Don’t try this at home’. A playful smile spread across my face during the poppy song warning of the dangers of chemical abuse, ‘what a great and responsible message’, I thought, while simultaneously remembering that I myself had already broken this most sacred of rules. As a child I spent many a weekend with my brother concocting ‘potions’ from various noxious substances before proclaiming them to be the miracle cure-all elixir of health and longevity. George’s Marvellous Medicine appeals to the wacky inventor in us all; the thrill of experimenting, creating and possibly even making a difference with our hair-brained inventions, and Julia Thomas’ production relishes in imagination, mess and magic.

As always with Dahl stories, beneath the high-jinx and humour lies a dark lesson; while George’s grandma gets her comeuppance the events leave a bitter taste which reminds us that meddling – for good or bad – can be disastrous. Let’s face it, George effectively kills his grandma, that’s a case for manslaughter right there! But it’s this kind of sting in the tale that sets apart Dahl’s work from his contemporaries, and while I wouldn’t necessarily be the first to visit a ‘family’ show, this is the kind of children’s story that adults can also get their teeth into and enjoy the humour in all its grotesqueness.

Thomas’ production successfully modernises the tale. Instead of the withered wind-bag one might expect (being familiar with Dahl’s original) Lisa Howard’s leopard print-clad glam granny is a welcome surprise, creating an edge to the character’s nastiness. She is vain, deluded and selfish, her very modern tastes making her more eccentric aspects (feasting on beetles and slugs, is she really a witch? Or is she just messing with George?) all the more bizarre. Tasha Taylor-Johnson’s music combines catchy fairytale motifs with modern rhythms to create a vibrant atmosphere, heightened by the use of actor-musicians, which is always an intimate and exuberant winner in my book.  

Morgan Large’s design is delightfully mad-cap with its topsy-turvy furniture and weird and wonderful contraptions. It reminded me of Caractacus Potts’ house in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang; a menagerie of cogs, gears, whizzing and twirling devices, the perfect playground for a would-be inventor/magician. Some ingenious puppetry brings to life the animals of the Kranky farm in a way that manages to be simultaneously quaint and tongue-in-cheek – a chicken/remote control car hybrid was an unexpected crowd pleaser.

Thomas also struck just the right balance with the audience interaction. There was nothing too imposing or offensive to our British sensibilities (honestly, the thought of audience interaction normally makes me cringe) while being inclusive enough that the youngsters in the audience felt a part of the magic. We were encouraged to remind George of his potion ingredients (one child yelling out for ‘Gin!’ was priceless), and help heat up the potion when his stove broke down. Preston Nyman as George was particularly engaging and made all the kids feel as he were their best friend, the audience was having a ball and the show felt like a proper muck-in of the best sort.

Curve have proven once again that they are a deft hand at Dahl adaptations and George may just be the best one yet. A great alternative to the traditional Christmas Pantomime, Thomas has created a deliciously juvenile concoction of hocus-pocus, tricks and treats, and heartfelt family bonding that appeals to children and adults alike. With Scrooge still playing in the main theatre, Curve has a plethora of festive delights on offer that has ensured the theatre is ending 2017 with a bang.

George’s Marvellous Medicine plays at Curve, Leicester until 20th January 2018 before going on a UK tour. For more dates, please visit

L-R Catherine Morris (George's Mum), Preston Nyman (George) and Justin Wilman (George's Dad). Photography Credit: Manuel Harlan

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