Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales

When I was a child, I loved Roald Dahl. Not so much the children’s books – which always seemed to the youthful me to be trying ever so slightly too hard to be the kind of disgusting/loveable thing that kids are supposed to enjoy reading – but his peerless volumes of memoir, Boy and Going Solo, and, especially, his short stories. I still remembering acquiring a black book with a glowing neon cover, the implied promise of which was that all manner of thrills and chills were afoot. And this proved accurate. Even today, Dahl’s twisted, witty black comic squibs amuse and appal in equal measure, dealing with everything from the ethical questions of a young mother desperate to have her abusive husband’s children in ‘Genesis And Catastrophe’ to an antique-dealing parson becoming involved with some very dodgy characters in ‘Parson’s Pleasure’.

Given their successful adaptation for television before, it seems surprising that they have taken so long to be staged (perhaps because of the notoriously protective Dahl estate), but now the Lyric Hammersmith, fresh from the enormous success of Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s Ghost Stories, have commissioned Dyson to produce an adaptation of five of the most famous, directed by rising star Polly Findlay (who, full disclosure alert, I was at university with).  It’s an interesting (if brief) evening, nailing some of Dahl’s perversity and macabre humour, but one ends up wishing that Dyson had gone somewhat further than he has done.

Connected by a wraparound story inspired by ‘Galloping Foxley’, the stories adapted here are ‘The Landlady’, ‘Mrs Bixby And The Colonel’s Coat’, ‘Man From The South’, ‘William And Mary’ and finally ‘Foxley’ itself. As ever with portmanteau stories, the results are variable. ‘Mrs Bixby’ feels out of place and inconsequential in this company, lacking the grotesquerie that the others have. ‘William And Mary’ and ‘Man From The South’ are both highly accomplished and surprisingly funny moments of anecdote, with the staging adding touches of perversity that perfectly compliment the stories. ‘The Landlady’ feels, perhaps fittingly given Dyson’s past, like a lost League of Gentlemen sketch, and ‘Galloping Foxley’ benefits immensely from being the freest adaptation of any of the stories, allowing the excellent George Rainsford (as Foxley) to offer a hilariously chilling account of a deranged public school bully.

The cast are, to be honest, variable – this is one of those annoying productions where an actress plays numerous male roles in drag for no clear reason – but Rainsford and the splendidly versatile Nick Fletcher (playing everything from a knife-happy South American to a terminally ill doctor of philosophy) impress.  Findlay’s direction is pacey and assured throughout, meaning that the brief 80 minute running time flies by. If ultimately I’d class this as an entertaining evening rather than anything more profound, I suppose it’s because the stories – macabre, challenging and endlessly captivating – offer all the thrills and twists that you need, without asking for further embellishment.

 

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