JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE BFG at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman 6.12.14.
4 stars ****
THERE’S SOMETHING about the current fashion for Roald-Dahl-based children’s shows that always leaves me slightly uneasy. Full of farty jokes and horrible portrayals of wicked adults, his stories often seem morally ambiguous, lurching between corrosive cynicism, and a weird kind of faith in the powers that be; and by choosing Roald Dahl for Christmas, theatres certainly avoid the difficut but rewarding task of tangling with the all the multiple meanings of our midwinter feast, since Dahl has nothing to say about that at all.
If Dahl it must be, though, then there’s no doubt that The BFG – which appears this year at the Royal Lyceum, in David Wood’s familiar stage version – is one the jolliest and most genial of his stories, the tale of little orphan Sophie, and the Big Friendly Giant that she spots outside her window one sleepless night. The BFG is an exception amongst giants, as Sophie soon learns when he transports her back to giant land. All the others are bloodthirsty beasts, who raid various countries and eat up children during the night; and in the effort to put a stop to their murderous rampages, Sophie and The BFG approach no less a person than the Queen, who manages, with the help of her navy and air force, to put everything right.
What on earth any 21st century child is meant to make of this eccentric political romance is anyone’s guess; it is as daft as it is enjoyable. What’s certain, though, is that the story of the BFG has a short but satisfying narrative structure, and a truly gorgeous way with language, as the BFG wrestles with his own unique form of English, explaining to Sophie that while burps are disgusting, “whizzpoppers” going in the other direction are practically a form of music.
Andrew Panton’s good-looking Lyceum production – featuring an eight-strong ensemble company – leads us through Dahl’s story at a brisk pace and with real feeling, even if Becky Minto’s vaguely Nordic set struggles slightly with the challenge of conjuring up Buckingham Palace. At its heart, it features a truly magnificent BFG in Lewis Howden, relishing every nuance of Dahl’s gorgeous word-play; and with the help of some delightful puppets and animations, and a final medley of Christmas songs to inject some seasonal cheer, this BFG delivers a fine 90 minutes of children’s theatre, fast, funny, genial, and often lovely to look at, too.