Roald Dahl is probably thought of as the man who invented rivers made of chocolate, a girl with magical powers, and a fox who was a little bit fantastic, otherwise known as a prominent children’s author. Yet Dahl was a storyteller for all ages, regularly weaving his inventive tales into adult fiction of a more peculiar nature. The Tales of the Unexpected is an example of the imaginative world that Dahl could conjure up – a collection of literally twisted tales, where the element of suspense lies in the reader knowing that not everything is as it seems, and shock could loom in every sentence.
It stands to reason that if you are producing a Dahl adaption for the stage, an element of the original pleasure and inventiveness with which he writes has to stay at the heart of the production. It seems the obvious thing to aim for, but clearly in the Lyric’s Twisted Tales, adapted by Jeremy Dyson and directed by Polly Findlay, the intention is there but sadly the heart is missing. Lacking a real sense of suspense, with a tedious text and a cast that doesn’t meet the multi-role-playing task at hand, Twisted Tales is a disappointment.
The tales are dispersed between a running narrative of three commuters on their regular train when a strange, talkative and energised man joins them one day. This stranger takes much joy in recounting stories to his fellow commuters, and wins them over with his inventiveness. The stories are thus portrayed as Dahl’s Tales, which at first offers a glimpse of excitement but increasingly become tiresome. The interjections of the running narrative become repetitive, stalling the production, meaning the cast have to kick-start their tales with great effort to build the suspense and tension once more.
The Lyric’s revolve is used to allow for Naomi Wilkinson’s staging to appear from the depths of the stage, spinning delightfully into place. Yet whilst I admire the technique and thought of the staging, it continually seems clumsy, especially the scenic elements that get flown in, often wobbling upon impact with the stage and losing all sense of dramatic tension. Yes, Wilkinson’s staging is at times enlightening, and with James Farncombe’s inventive use of lighting behind gauzes the set appears from nowhere, but as a whole it just feels wasted.
Dyson’s adaption doesn’t convey a real sense of transformation from page to stage. It lose many of the subtleties in the text, leaving Findlay’s direction a little too obvious. If Twisted Tales is aimed at adults, I can’t help but to think that you must act a little childishly to pretend not to see what is going to happen in any one moment. Repeatedly, I had guessed the ending long before Dyson’s text had a chance to twist towards a skewed climax, rendering me weary of it all.
As for the cast… they are not bad actors at all, but they are restricted by text and direction, meaning that each reappearance seemed as if the same character from the previous tale was on stage with a different accent. Whilst it is unfair to pick out certain actors as sore thumbs in this production there clearly has been some miscasting along the way – or perhaps this cast hasn’t gelled as well as they should have in the process. Whatever the reason, I shall hold my tongue, but let’s hope for a better fit next time on the casting front.
Twisted Tales clearly wasn’t for me, and you could argue that perhaps I focused so heavily on the technical aspects (the text, direction, set and cast) that I couldn’t enjoy the show carefree, willing myself into suspense and tension. However, I believe that the intention of Findlay’s production was there, she just didn’t achieve the heart of a Dahl production, and that for me is essential and ultimately leads Twisted Tales to be a disappointment.
Twisted Tales is playing at the Lyric Hammersmith until 28th February. Tickets and information here.