George’s Marvellous Medicine
The stage show of Roald Dahl's book brings potion-making antics to Brighton
As I lifelong bookworm, I have many favourite quotes… the last line of The Great Gatsby, whole chunks of Hamlet, and this: ‘she had a small puckered-up mouth, like a dog’s bottom.’ Yes, really. It’s classic Roald Dahl and it’s from George’s Marvellous Medicine, which is in Brighton this week, bringing farm mechanics, potion hocus pocus and a bit of magic to the Theatre Royal.
Those of you from my era may remember the somewhat legendary reading of the book Rik Mayall gave on Jackanory one year, slopping ingredients all over the place. It was hilarious (you can still find a very grainy verison on YouTube).
It’s not as full a story as a lot of other Dahl books, the central plot is pretty simple and because of this I’d say it’s better for younger children – my eight-year-old nephew had a good time but I suspect his ten-year-old brother might have been less engaged.
In a nutshell, George has a scary grandma he suspects may be a witch and he substitutes her medicine with one of his own invention in an attempt to make her nicer, prompting some rather unexpected results.
The set is great and grabbed our interest before the show had even started. George’s ramshackle farmyard home is brought to life in a steampunk kind of way with fun bicycle operated machines and chickens in cupboards. There’s also a bank of TV screens flashing up messages at certain points.
The potion making is the main event of course and there’s some fun audience interaction as George holds up various items and gets you to shout ‘in’ or ‘out’. Thus I was somewhat guiltily yelling encouragement to a boy to feed toilet cleaner to his Granny… At the interval when we were discussing the worst things in the potion my nephew already knew my verdict as I’d apparently gasped at the nail polish and antifreeze.
There’s a warning about not touching the real medicine cabinet (though animal pills all go into the mix) and the disclaimer is covered off in a ‘don’t try this at home’ song at the end.
A bouncy adult (Preston Nyman) plays George and his granny (Lisa Howard) is a lot of fun – a sort of evil version of Jane McDonald with a penchant for leopard print, gin and slugs. There’s also a small ensemble cast, one of whom appears as a giant punk chicken.
I enjoyed recognising fun rhymes and descriptions from the book and the simple special effects like the glowing medicine tub, magic sparks and giant grandma bossing George and his parents around from the top of the set.
My nephew’s favourite part was a fantasy sequence in which George imagines his granny is nice – partly because it features some good dance moves and mainly because it features a whoopee cushion.
Being a bit of a mimic he was also practising the ‘don’t try this at home’ message afterwards in the voices of the actors. Still, I think I’ll be proceeding with caution if he offers me a funny smelling drink any time soon.
George’s Marvellous Medicine is at the Theatre Royal, Brighton daily until Saturday 3 March with performances at several child-friendly times. Tickets are from £19. atgtickets.com