REVIEW: Danny Champion of the World by Roald Dahl adapted by David Wood
For Roald Dahl enthusiasts the story is well known: Danny lives with his Dad in a caravan next to their garage. Dad practices the art of a poacher and enjoys occasional pheasant poaching trips into landowner Victor Hazell’s woods. A trap is set to catch him and when Dad falls into a pit and breaks his ankle, only our champion’s actions save the day. Trying to help his dad get even with Hazell, Danny thinks up an ingenious plan to drug the pheasants and collect them when they are asleep, in the process spoiling Hazell’s plans for a pheasant shoot.
Dahl’s colourful cast of characters were enacted with confidence and enthusiasm. The central relationship between father (Matt Davis) and son (Alfie Saunters) was played with heartfelt warmth and a touching display of concern for each other. Mike Stoneham, as Victor Hazell, was the character everyone loved to hate, playing in true panto villain style, and ably supported by Munro Scott and Michaela Flynn, his gormless gamekeepers, who encouraged the audience to vocalise their disapproval with boos and hisses, and to join in the beating for a pheasant shoot. Joanna Flay was a wonderfully chipper vicar’s wife (Mrs Clipstone) and Helen Pierce as Doctor Spencer was the epitome of efficiency and compassion fighting for Danny’s cause. Other village personalities played by Lee Lyons, Andrew White, Dianne Cheesewright, Gill Jenks and Anne Edwards, helped or hindered the heroes, moving the story along to Hazell’s inevitable come-uppance and Danny’s triumph.
The swivelling brightly coloured set design (Dee Harvey) that was one moment the garage and the next the woods, was especially impressive. When coupled with the imaginative lighting, sound effects and slick scene changing the production came to life. Props excelled, notably the pheasants that fell from the skies, made by Dianne Cheesewright, Lynette Forward and Veronica Sceal, and the puppetry of the chickens. The large car props and Danny’s drive through the night to rescue his father were also effective theatrics. Stage shotguns looked in keeping and there was a starring role for a range of false teeth appearing amongst the shooting party!
Director Jane Richardson pulled it all together, playing up the pantomime slant that children in the audience, younger and older, entered into with gusto. It was also particularly pleasing to see a large number of new faces drawn to the theatre through this Stables production.