Friday, October 28, 2011

Memories of a master storyteller - review of Anthony Pedley, A Taste of Dahl

A Taste of Dahl, at The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, on Saturday, October 8

HAVING played the title role of The BFG in a theatre production just a few months after author Roald Dahl’s death, actor Anthony Pedley was inspired to devise a one-man show to inspire in children a love of Dahl’s wider work, and in turn, a love of reading.

Transforming himself by way of a cardigan into the great man himself, Pedley performed the entire show using only words written or spoken by Dahl, to blend in a little of his life story, his most famous children’s books (identified by shout-outs from the audience), and some of his lesser known work, such as those published posthumously, demonstrating that even ardent Dahl fans will often have more to explore.

Jumping from the elderly Dahl into his childhood self, trembling as he anticipate a caning from his headmaster, Pedley explained how the author never lost his childhood sense of fun, holding on to a love of cheekiness and  combining it with a moral sense of comeuppance and a touch of the grotesque inspired by the folklore stories told to him by his Norwegian grandmother.

And so, we learnt about The Gremlins, Dahl’s first published book (based on his screenplay for an aborted Disney film - no, not THAT Gremlins!), and his last children’s book for 18 years, until James and the Giant Peach in 1961. In between, he wrote some of his dark, dark adult short story collections, touched upon in the show, obviously not in too much detail, but to hint that there was a world beyond when the young readers were older and ready.

However, he did read an excerpt from The Swan, one of the short stories in The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar, his collection for older children, which certainly traumatised me as a child, reading it at a younger age than that for which it was intended. Parents with avid readers should approach with caution. However, including it (not in its entirety) in a show which mainly focussed on fun emphasised Pedley’s point about the wide scope of Dahl’s work, and how a love of his stories can indeed inspire a lifetime of reading.

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, October 13, 2011

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