Adapted by Jeremy Dyson from the short stories of Roald Dahl
A Lyric Hammersmith, Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse and Northern Stage co-production
Northern Stage, Newcastle
Was it really 1979 that Tales of the Unexpected first hit our TV screens? Amazing! The first series and half of the second were the only ones based on Dahl's stories although his name is inevitably associated with the whole run of the show, right through to the final series in 1988.
I well remember the delight I felt in the creepiness, even horror, of those early episodes, but I have to admit that I found this new stage adaptation even more enjoyable. That's partly because the TV adaptations were sometimes too explicit, replacing Dahl's subtle suggestions with clear images, but mainly because generally they missed what Jeremy Dyson and director Polly Findlay capture so well in these adaptations, a strong vein of black, bleak humour. There were, indeed, times when we, the audience, laughed aloud.
In The Landlady, for example, the TV version actually showed us what we conjure up in our imaginations whereas here it is left to the playing of Selina Griffiths to achieve a much more subtle effect, not TV's shock/horror but a frisson of horror mixed with laughter. More subtle, indeed, and much more satisfying.
A company of six (five adults and one boy who is a kind of narrator/introducer of the piece) perform the five tales which are framed by the device of an interloper on a commuter train upsetting the usual quiet of the journey by telling stories, and they play more than twenty parts between them, differentiating the characters convincingly so that we quite naturally suspend our disbelief when, for example, Alexandra Meher plays a man no less than four times.
The cast - Nick Fletcher, Alexandra Maher, George Rainsford, Trevor White and Selina Griffiths, along with Jonathan Danciger and Larry McCartney who alternate the role of the Boy - are excellent and, after a month at the Lyric Hammersmith, are very comfortable with the rapid changes and with handling Naomi Wilkinson's clever, ever-changing set based on flying walls, gauzes and lights and a smoothly unobtrusive revolve.
The 80 minutes (no interval) passed quickly and while no on could call Twisted Tales a demanding or challenging evening of theatre, it is certainly an entertaining and enjoyable one.
Playing at Northern Stage until 26th March, then at Liverpool Playhouse from 30th March to 23rd April
Philip Fisher reviewed this production at the Lyric Hammersmith
Reviewer: Peter Lathan