Review: Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts: shake and stir and La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse

10 January, 2014 by No Comments

Images: Dylan Evans

It’s the middle summer and in every suburb the cry goes up, “We’re booored!” Kids and their parents are desperate for diversionary tactics to stem the tide of wailing and to escape into the relief of some air-conditioned goodness for an hour or two. Just in time, as they do each year, La Boite Theatre Company produces a show to delight the generations. This year the inimitable shake and stir return with an adaptation of two of Roald Dahl‘s classic books. It’s a compendium of naughty nursery tales entitled Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts directed by Ross Balbuziente.

Our house has an almost 30 years old, wonderfully dog-eared, much-loved copy of Revolting Rhymes lying on a shelf somewhere, and I think Dirty Beasts is somewhere at the bottom of a playbox in the shed – stuff you can’t throw out because the memories they hold are too precious. I recall the fun we had at bedtime perusing Quentin Blake’s great line-drawing illustrations and ‘doing the voices’ of the mad array of characters that Dahl brought to life. Gosh, is it that long ago. But to the production …

I’m glad to say shake and stir have not mucked about with Mr Dahl’s terrific text, and that they have captured the spirit of Mr Blake’s characters wonderfully well in this production. The adaptation of the literary text is excellent – something shake and stir (true to their name) do very well indeed – and the staging is energetic, physical, delightfully theatrical and spot on. The kids in the audience last night really loved the dance routines choreographed by Sally Hare that are sprinkled throughout the show. I suspect Mr Dahl would approve.

The quartet of actors (Nelle Lee, Nick Skubij, Judy Hainsworth, and Leon Cain) let us know at the outset that we may think you know the stories, ‘but you don’t.’ In the romping 90 or so minutes that follow, familiar plots are stirred and thickened  into a delightful new confection.

All our favourites are here. From Revolting Rhymes there’s Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Miss Red Riding Hood, the three pigs, the three bears and their nemesis Goldilocks, plus Snow White and company. The endings – as we’ve been warned – aren’t what you might expect, and they are all the better for it.

Less familiar but just as much fun are the creatures from Dahl’s other book Dirty Beasts: a toad and a snail, (another) clever pig (Dahl liked pigs you suspect), a crocodile and a porcupine. Dahl continues in the long line of moral fables for kiddies but twists them delightfully, and shake and stir finish the job with a very cool contemporary staging.Image by Dylan Evans3

Josh McIntosh‘s set design appears at first disarmingly simple. It’s a big, round revolving platform – like a cake – but with trapdoors and windows, just like a pop-up story book. Characters and props appear from below or from above – you’re never quite sure what’s going to appear next – that’s part of the fun of course – and there are lots of delightful theatrical surprises in the design. Watch the inventive use of a large piece of fabric as it does duty for costume and as a set piece.

Mr McIntosh’s costumes are a patchwork design out of modern fairy-tale-land and their earth-toned, pastels with splashes of vivid primaries are reminiscent of a lovely watercolour picture book – gorgeous design on the eye and charming in action.

I do admire shake and stir’s embrace of the theatre’s ways and means from using a bit of old cloth as a dress, the ocean, a shadow-screen; of their delight and expertise in physical and vocal transformation and, above all, the way story is front and centre in the work. It’s really quite excellent theatre.

Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts features dynamic lighting from Jason Glenwright and a sound track of music and effects from Guy Webster. Light and sound support, focus and blend together creating a thrilling world for the energetic,  fast-paced action.

Image by Dylan Evans4The ensemble of actors are in fine form and they appear to be having so much fun – not the self-indulgent or talk-down to the kids kind – but a revelling in sharing familiar tales from their own childhood with a genuine delight in uninhibited playfulness. You get the feeling they just love the job.

Characterisations, true to the best story-telling conventions, are robust, clear and vivid; they are also faithful to the quite sophisticated, puckish spirit that animates Dahl’s tales.  Nelle Lee’s take on the Magic Mirror from Snow White is a delight, but hers is only one of many witty, memorable character studies that will appeal  not only to kids but to their adults. It’s a production to hug tight.

If you are lucky you may get a ticket. As they say (and it’s true) it’s selling fast.