Adapted by the experienced David Wood, Danny the Champion of the World is highly recommended because of the sheer zip and energy that the Birmingham Stage Company brings to the piece. But, let's be honest, Danny is not Roald Dahl's best work.
I have problems with the central narrative of a young boy and his father fighting against hunters in their quiet village: who lacks morals, the people who shoot the pheasants for sport or Danny's father who poaches them for food?
Wood is a very fine writer and he attempts to adapt the original novel by adding the odd modern flourish. But the story now seems so dated that it could do with a complete overhaul.
That said, the children at the matinee I attended loved the audience participation, Sean Crowley's lovely set- featuring the famous caravan and the lovely performances of the brilliant cast. Iain Ridley makes a believable protagonist and engages the young crowd throughout. Neal Foster also impresses as the young boy’s father.
Paula Gardinier’s music sometimes resembles the soundtrack to French film Amelie and as a result feels at odds with the countryside feel that the original book is trying to evoke.
The whole play feels like an adult’s attempt at remaking the hit show Heartbeat for kids. It is harmless entertainment and has points to make about country living but it feels strangely out of touch with many of the city based audiences who will be going to see it.
Director, Phil Clark’s ace up his sleeve is the pace of the production. Just when things appear to run out of steam he involves the audience fully within the central concept. You are invited to scare the pheasants, sign a petition, attend school with Danny and generally shout and scream every time Mr Hazel, the evil huntsman steps onto the stage.
Nia Davies and Lu Corfield steal the show for me as they play instruments, make chicken noises and act as individual characters, constantly keeping the humour flowing.
There are some pleasant moments and it will entertain the most demanding of children. But, overall, the central story does not play too well with today’s audiences.
The Birmingham Stage Company pulls out its usual stops, which stops the show from being a flightless bird, like the ones Danny and co fight about.
- Glenn Meads