Danny The Champion of the World

Directed by Phil Clark for Sherman Theatre Company, adapted by David Wood from the story by Roald Dahl
Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
(2005)

Theatre for young people does not come much better than this: Sherman Theatre Company's production of this heartwarming story by Roald Dahl is a surefire winner, intelligently mounted and performed, and guaranteed to entrance audiences of all ages. Danny (Griff Jameson) lives with his father (Dafydd Emyr) in a run-down caravan adjoining a petrol station in the midst of a rural community which abounds with larger-than-life characters, who - in typical Dahl style - are painted with big bold strokes: the northern bobby (Matthew Bailey), the vicar's wife (Llinos Mai), the robust lady doctor (Nia Davies) and so forth. Danny and his Dad enjoy a strong bond and are supported by their friends and neighbours, but when local landowner Mr Hazell (Nick Wayland Evans) arrives on the scene, the pair's idyllic life looks set to be shattered.

Unlike so many other works by Dahl, this story has no supernatural or magical elements and is unusually wordy, with the warmth between father and son being underlined in sequences which are beautifully written and at times very moving. Which of us would not have wished for a Dad as affectionate and caring as this one when we were growing up?

It says much for the skill of the performers, and for the intuitive approach of director Phil Clark, that, at the performance I attended, an audience comprised of schoolchildren was spellbound even through the wordier scenes: all the more remarkable given the fact that today's generation of children is said to lack the ability to pay attention to anything for more than five minutes at a time.

The by now familiar gimmick of having a cast provide their own music works well here - though to be frank the accordion becomes a little tedious and repetitive after a while - and there are scenes involving puppetry and projection which add much to the feel of the production.

This is clever and engaging stuff which demonstrates just how good Dahl was at tapping into the psychology of children - and if his adult characters seem cartoon-like and heavily caricatured at times, this only adds to the atmosphere of a show in which a child sets out to prove that he can beat those pesky grown-ups at their own game.

By no means just for kids, this is a warm and winning piece of theatre which proves that productions aimed at children can be every bit as intelligent and relevant as those aimed at adult audiences.

Graham Williams