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Review Round-up: Dyson Tells More Tales at Lyric

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Roald Dahl's Twisted Tales, adapted by Jeremy Dyson from the Dahl’s renowned short stories for adults, premiered at the Lyric Hammersmith earlier this week (24 January 2011, previews from 14 January) - the same venue that staged Dyson and co-adaptor Andy Nyman's Ghost Stories last year.

According to press material: "In Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales nothing is quite as it seems; pleasant old ladies have sinister hobbies, widows seek sweet revenge on the recently departed and a simple gambling game has alarmingly high stakes. Expect the unexpected."

Directed by Polly Findlay, the cast features: Nick Fletcher (The White Guard, NT); Selina Griffiths (After Life, NT, BBC’s Cranford); Alexandra Maher (Our Country’s Good, Watermill); George Rainsford (Days of Significance, RSC); Trevor White (Red Bud, Royal Court) and in the role of the young boy Jonathan Danciger and Larry McCartney.

There follows a selection of overnight reviews...

Michael Coveney

"I’m not sure about this sudden new interest in theatrical horror stories: M R James, Dahl, Susan Hill – they’re all much better in print. And, I’m sorry, but Jeremy Dyson has an absolute duty to tell us which stories of Dahl he’s adapted; and why, and how, he’s cannibalised them … the show makes little narrative sense, despite Polly Findlay’s adept production and the sterling work of Selina Griffiths – one of our top character actresses, and not just in Cranford on BBC TV – as both the sinister landlady and the liberated Mrs Pearl … Still, the audience has a fair old time and it’s possible they might have an even fairer one going back to look again at Dahl’s stories for adults; but the Lyric obviously isn’t matching the RSC in its all-conquering re-imagining of Dahl’s Matilda and her stroppy adventures.”

Sarah Hemming
Financial Times

“Dyson and director Polly Findlay have staged several of the writer’s Tales of the Unexpected, binding them together to create an evening of sadistic fun and juicy revenge. The result is mixed: some stories translate to the stage better than others and they lack the stealthy fascination of the originals, in which the interplay of the mundane and the horrific casts a chilly spell. But they do reveal Dahl’s uncanny ability to home in on the darker reaches of human ingenuity … Most memorable is the gambler who makes a gruesome bet with a cocky young American boy about the reliability of his cigarette lighter. Findlay and her cast build up the tension deliciously, with the boy, who stands to lose a finger if his lighter lets him down, wiping his sweaty hand as he coaxes the gadget into action, and his tormentor dragging his heavy cleaver across the table … An enjoyable evening, but not twisted enough.”

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

“I can't remember when I last saw a grown man lick a meat cleaver or heard someone refer to a "silly little pancreas", and this reworking of a selection of cherished Roald Dahl tales revels in such quirky details … In all Dyson's adaptations there are squirts of tormenting humour and pinches of the grotesque. Although the performances are exaggerated, with too many overegged accents, there is some good work by George Rainsford and Trevor White, and there's an excellent design by Naomi Wilkinson, lit broodingly by James Farncombe … Nevertheless, this isn't a show that delivers tingling thrills and chills … There are some shocks and moments of suspense but the storytelling lacks Dahl's trademark mercilessness and his flair for pungent nostalgia.”

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph

"There are five stories here and a couple of them strike me as disappointing. Indeed the one involving an unfaithful wife and the problems she encounters with the mink coat given to her by a former lover is a complete wash-out. And though the show’s total running time is only 80 minutes, there are some surprisingly protracted longueurs … Nevertheless Polly Findlay’s production, with a cast of five playing multiple roles, and ingenious and atmospheric Fifties designs by Naomi Wilkinson, undoubtedly achieves some startling moments and a memorably malign atmosphere of snobbery with violence … There are some strong performances, most notably from George Rainsford as the public-school sadist, from Nick Fletcher as the far from sweet William, and Selina Griffiths, who ranges from the coldly glamorous to the creepily grotesque in a virtuosic variety of roles. Nevertheless, one leaves the theatre feeling glutted with unpleasantness but less than dramatically satisfied.”

Michael Billington

"One or two of the tales strike me as shaggy Dahl stories with easily foreseeable twists. But, at its best, an admirably short, 80-minute evening generates a pleasurable suspense and conveys Dahl's peculiar fascination with human cruelty … At times, one wonders about Dahl's general purpose. Was he, as the director Polly Findlay suggests, processing the world's ruthlessness? Or was the ice pick that Graham Greene once said lurks in every writer's heart simply a weapon that Dahl delighted in wielding? Whatever the answer, the evening is a piece of sustained grand guignol, is deftly designed by Naomi Wilkinson so that a revolving stage whisks us from one story to the next and is well acted by a versatile cast: George Rainsford as the cane-brandishing Foxley and Selina Griffiths as the vengeful Mrs Pearl, puffing cigarette smoke into her late husband's optical nerve, certainly take the eye. For those who relish an evening of short, sharp theatrical shocks, this may be just the ticket.”

Paul Taylor

"This new stage version of some of the author's aimed-at-adults Tales of the Unexpected at the Lyric Hammersmith strikes me as more than a couple of shudders short of the full Dahl. I have only two problems with it. I hate the stories themselves and I find the theatrical adaptation of them largely spurious in the chills department … Tricked with melodramatic trapping (huge wayward clock, dry-ice-infected rail network) this is a succession of heartless jeux d'esprit slickly served up by Jeremy Dyson … and director Polly Findlay in a manner abjectly intent on duplicating the Lyric's West End success with Ghost Stories … But who gives a basic damn about landladies with long-term taxidermic ambitions or gambling Jamaican expats or public-school fags wreaking misdirected revenge on their bullies? … Hello Dahl-y and goodbye."


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