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The BFG

Roald Dahl, adapted by David Wood
Derby LIVE
Derby Theatre
(2011)

The BFG, Derby

In the three years since Derby LIVE has been responsible for the artistic programme at Derby Theatre, Christmas has had plenty of sparkle.

Bold choices of productions which few other venues had chosen meant there was always an attractive alternative to the panto a few hundred yards away in the city’s Assembly Rooms.

In 2009, Peter Roberts’s adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen was a “daring” selection which proved to be a “wonderful tale”. Last year, The Wind in the Willows also proved a success.

Now Derby LIVE is presenting its final festive offering before the University of Derby, which holds the lease on the Theatre, branches out on its own and reveals its own artistic vision.

The BFG proves that Derby LIVE will be a hard act to follow. Its eye-opening staging, enthusiastic acting and attention to detail will be difficult to match in 12 months’ time.

Ellie Jones’s enchanting direction leads to fascinating mixes: there’s a doll-sized version of Sophie, the girl taken to Giant Country, when Vince Pellegrino appears as the BFG; later a huge puppet operated by three people takes to the stage when Louise Collins plays Sophie.

Pellegrino is perfectly suited to the role of the giant. He portrays the BFG as kind, thoughtful and wise as well as friendly. You have huge sympathy for his plight and you want him to get the better of the other, children-eating giants who despise him.

You laugh with him, not at him, because of his language difficulties which mean he has a unique vocabulary. The most inventive, which of course leads to great hilarity, is the word whizzpopper—giant-speak for a fart. Children in the audience laugh almost uncontrollably when he has an attack of flatulence.

Louise Collins, all round glasses and pigtails, captures the charm and innocence of ten-year-old orphan Sophie. She swiftly gives an authentic impression of a girl who really does believe in giants. She effortlessly moves from portraying Sophie life-size to operating a puppet and keeping in character with just her voice.

The BFG, though, isn’t just a two-person show. There are telling contributions from the rest of the cast, especially those playing the non-friendly giants. They really look scary, especially when they clamber over the audience and re-emerge with things like girls’ plaits hanging from their mouths.

Josephine Lloyd-Welcome brings an affability to her role as The Queen while Bethan Mary James as her servant Mary produces a range of startled reactions when she hears that the monarch’s strange dreams have all come true.

There’s a cameo role for a corgi at the bottom of the Queen’s bed who’s fearsome and funny at the same time.

Towards the end the magic continues, with helicopters taking the captured giants to London where they’re dropped into a deep pit from which they’re unable to escape. Breathtaking stuff.

The only disappointment for me was several rows of empty seats on the evening I attended. Ellie Jones presents a fascinating, visually stimulating show which deserves a full audience every night.

As Derby LIVE’s festive swansong, The BFG leaves a legacy that may hang around, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, to haunt the University of Derby.

The BFG runs until 14th January

Reviewer: Steve Orme