by Roald Dahl adapted by Jeremy Dyson.
Lyric Theatre King Street Hammersmith W6 0QL To 26 February.
then Northern Stage Newcastle-upon-Tyne Barras Bridge NE1 7RH 16-26 March.
then Liverpool Playhouse Williamson Square L1 1EL 30 March-23 April 2011.
Runs 1hr 20min No interval.
Review: Carole Woddis 27 January.
OK, so given the Lyric Hammersmith now has a bit of a tradition to live up to of scaring its audiences, how does Twisted Tales rate on the hammer-horror meter? As co-producers, with Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse, of Ghost Stories – still running in the West End – the Lyric have now invited Ghost Stories’ writer, the League of Gentleman’s Jeremy Dyson, to see what he can do with the short stories of Roald Dahl.
Confessing, in the programme note, to his early adoration of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s author, Dyson has clearly found a kindred spirit in director Polly Findlay.
Together the two of them have produced a smart little bonne bouffe running in at just over 80 minutes that features a cast of five nipping into a variety of accents and wigs, and impresses even if it doesn’t exactly scare the living daylights out of anybody.
To its credit, the night I was there, you could have heard a pin drop – partly I think due to Findlay’s conceiving the brilliant and spookily effective conceit of linking the stories by means of a train compartment. As one story ends, the next swings into view – a clever conveyor belt that allows for no settling back. One surprise follows another with infinite subtlety – a reflection of the way Dahl sets up seemingly conventional characters and plotlines only to drag the rug from under at the last moment.
The tales themselves, sometimes ghoulish, sometimes psychologically mischievous – the wife who gets her revenge on a dominating husband whose brain has been cryonically treated after death, by smoking a forbidden cigarette in front of him – manifest various degrees of turning the tables on oppressors.
Dahl’s own public-school horror story even shows up in Boy where the grown-up victim turns on his supposed persecutor and shoots him, only to discover he’s a man from Eton rather than Repton. Very arcane.
The stories themselves seem slight, even old-fashioned in their 1950s accents and manners. But the tension built by Dahl’s special sense of the macabre and Findlay and the cast’s pinpoint execution ensure that reverberations continue in the mind long after the final punchline.
Perkins/Perkins’ Father/The Colonel/Mr Palacios/Williams: Nick Fletcher.
Grummit/Ticket Officer/The Pawnbroker/Miss Pultenery/Ginger: Alexandra Maher.
Elsworth/Foxley/Billy Weaver/Clark: George Rainsford.
Stranger/Mr Bixby/Rolf/Dr Landy: Trevor White.
Devlin/The Landlady/Mrs Bixby/Eva/Mrs Pearl: Selina Griffiths.
Young Perkins: Larry McCartney/Jonathan Danciger.
Director: Polly Findlay.
Designer/Costume: Naomi Wilkinson.
Lighting: James Farncombe.
Sound: Nick Manning.
Video: 59 Productions.
Voice/Dialect coach: Majella Hurley.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
Assistant director: Cathal Cleary.
A Lyric Hammersmith, Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse and Northern Stage Production.