Danny the Champion of the World
Bloomsbury Theatre Winter 2007-2008 (and touring)
The Birmingham Stage Company's tour of Roald Dahl's story pauses in London for the holiday season with a show that will be particularly enjoyable for kids who know the original.
Young Danny, who in David Wood's adaptation serves as narrator, talking directly to the audience, discovers that his father's mysterious midnight disappearances are poaching expeditions, stealing pheasants from a nearby estate.
Dad introduces Danny to the fun of the hunt, and when the landowner has the effrontery to be offended by the thefts, he becomes the villain.
He tries to have Danny and Dad evicted, but the village rallies around them and Danny triumphs by coming up with a scheme to ruin the baddy's annual pheasant shoot.
Adults might be bothered a bit by the tale's morality (Stealing and killing someone else's pheasants for fun is good; shooting your own for fun is bad) but it doesn't faze the pre-teens in the audience, who are instinctive supporters of the underdog and accept it as a given that the rich man is the bad guy.
They're also surprisingly receptive to what seemed to me an extended first third of rather static and talky exposition scenes, punctuated by the appearance of not-quite-colourful-enough village characters – testimony to the power of Dahl's storytelling.
There's no denying that the kids particularly enjoy the sequences that draw them into the action, as when the lights come up and they become extras in a school assembly scene and later in a town meeting.
And the high point comes as the audience is rehearsed and then recruited to be hunt beaters, stamping and whooping to scare off the birds and foil the bad guy.
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Review of Danny The Champion Of The World - Bloomsbury Theatre 2007