Yes, it’s that time of year again - ‘Tis indeed the season to be all things festive. Theatrically speaking, this means an onslaught of pantomimes, musicals, literary adaptations, and some more avant-garde fringe choices.
The Bolton Octagon have come up trumps again, and revisited the Roald Dahl cannon (following the success of their James And The Giant Peach and The Twits in recent years,) with a family-friendly, feelgood story that will warm the cockles in these cold winter months.
Danny ([Des O’Malley]) lives with his Dad (Stephen Chapman) in a run-down caravan on the outskirts of Mr Hazell’s wood. Together, they live a meagre existence running the filling station. When Danny’s Dad is caught pheasant poaching on the land owned by the wicked Mr Hazell (Morgan George) and the family unit is faced with eviction by the council, Danny has to rally the village folk with an ingenious pheasant-baiting plan that just might save their bacon…
It’s a brilliant story (adapted by David Wood) tinged with Dahl’s trademark bitterness (the economic plight of the family is pretty grim,) and one that has to recreate chases, car journeys, mad hens, pheasants (and pheasant pluckers alike) and a busy, bustling village. Director Mark Babych and a company of seven work their socks off to keep proceedings brisk, bright and cheerful.
As always, the Octagon punch well above their weight with set design, and Helen Goddard’s huge, cartoon style set serves a multiple of locations very well indeed. Similarly, Howard Gray’s score is a significant asset; it adds a pleasing polish and sheen, and a palpable sense of festive wonder to the show.
The cast work wonderfully well together, and rally and chivvy the audience into becoming part of the story and the action. There’s enough good work going on to engage and amuse accompanying adults too, and spirited turns all round. Chapman’s Dad is a man you can’t help but root for. Thomas Aldersley’s multiple roles highlight his comic versatility, and Helen Kay practically steals the show as a Maggie Smith-esque Head Teacher. Centrally, crucially, O’Malley’s Danny is a brilliant performance. Childlike, fun, questioning, and never patronising, adults and kids alike warm to him with ease.
There are some minor misgivings.Morgan George’s black country accent is layered on a bit thick, and the first half’s length made a knee-high crowd a little restless.
That said, it’s great clean fun for all the family, especially younger members. My six year old theatre companion, Dominic Huntbach said he, “liked Danny and his Dad the best, and really really liked the clucking hens and pheasants.”
So, say “Bah! Humbug!” to the credit crunch doom-mongers! This is a golden-hued family treat; fairly priced, and the perfect Christmas show for young and old to enjoy.
Go on – treat yourselves, as no-one does Dahl better than the Octagon!