REVIEW – The BFG (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)

© Ian Tilton
© Ian Tilton
Upstaged Rating: 

Following the success of James and the Giant Peach, Director Sarah Esdaile returns to Bolton Octagon to direct another Roald Dahl classic. In this adaptation by David Wood, The BFG tells the magical story of a little girl called Sophie who lives in the village orphanage. One night, Sophie spies a huge cloaked figure blowing something into the bedroom window further down the street and before she can hide from this mysterious creature, she is picked up and taken to his home in Giant Country.

Luckily for Sophie this giant is the BFG, one of the good guys – friendly, entertaining and most importantly kind hearted. He goes around at night when people are asleep to make sure that they have good dreams.

Obviously, one of the most challenging demands of producing a stage show of The BFG is managing to create the illusion of scale and height between the giants and little Sophie. Clever puppetry directed and designed by Michael Fowkes works perfectly – a delicately animated smaller version of Sophie and a trio of three huge bone-crunching ogres certainly does the trick.

Janet Bird’s design sees the Octagon main stage set on two levels allowing swift movement between scenes and different settings from the orphanage where Sophie lives to the formidable Giant Country. The design has a wonderfully home crafted quality to it – the giants with their huge papier-mâché heads and the use of cardboard and newsprint throughout. With comical dream sequences and a visit to Buckingham Palace, the story is told effectively and in a way that children can follow with ease. From the BFG’s head appearing at the Queen’s bedroom window to making Facetime calls on a huge iPhone – the design elements are a highlight.

Macy Nyman makes a noteworthy stage debut as Sophie, beautifully expressive and childlike, providing a wonderful narration as she brings the puppet of Sophie to life.

John Seaward is instantly loveable as the BFG – full of energy, kindness and humour – with a full head of flaming orange hair, he looks considerably different to the familiar Quentin Blake drawings. Introducing Sophie to his wondrous imaginative language, where the words sound very similar to English or are completely made up – so beautifully typical of Roald Dahl.

The talented pyjama-clad double up to play a range of different characters – Richard Booth, Philip Bosworth and Roddy Peters as the booming, ruthless ogres; Sarah Finigan impresses as The Queen and the cantankerous Mrs Clonkers and Emma MacLennan also adapts to a number of roles demonstrating her versatility as a performer.

Recommended for ages 5 and over, this is a fantastic ensemble production with a lot of heart. The BFG at Bolton Octagon offers families a high-quality production and a pleasing alternative from the traditional Christmas pantomime.

-Kristy Stott

 The BFG runs at the Octagon Theatre in Bolton until 9 January 2016. 


REVIEW – Room on the Broom (The Lowry)

© Helen Warner
© Helen Warner
Date: 8 april 2015
Upstaged Rating: 


Tall Stories Theatre Company are well versed in adapting well-loved children’s stories for the stage. Using their trademark physical theatre style, catchy signature tunes and puppetry – they succeed in appealing to the adults in the audience just as much as they do the children.

And Tall Stories usually present the well-known childhood story with a frame story which serves to entertain the children as they enter the theatre. There is no waiting around for the action to start because as the audience file in to take their seats, the actors are all on stage improvising a camping trip to the woods. What is really clever is that the actors tap into older relatives experiences of a family camping trip too, particularly us parents who might find that we need to have “a ploughmans, a tiramisu and then…a shot!”

The camping trip setting leads through to a Blair Witch-esque sighting of something flying in the sky which leads neatly to the narrative that we have all been eagerly waiting for, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s, Room on the Broom.

Yvette Clutterbuck’s Witch is as scatty as is hinted at in Donaldson’s original story, a good likeable witch who struggles to cast a spell. Luckily, she has a super competent cat with plenty of ideas, a marvellous singing voice and  an endless supply of sweets, played by Emma MacLennan.

As the witch and her cat fly along on their broom stick, they end up making friends with three other animals, who help her retrieve her belongings when they fall to the ground. The puppets, designed by Yvonne Stone, are well characterised by David Garrud, who plays the dog and the frog and Daniel Foxsmith as the green bird. The American country and western singing frog is a particular hit with the young audience, as is the dog, especially when the two puppets swap accents during an exchange. I’m not sure that this was intentional but it was a great source of humour for many in the audience.

Tall Stories Theatre Company, headed up by Artistic Directors Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell,  never fail to delight with their interpretations of Julia Donaldson’s well-loved tales. Although admittedly, Room on the Broom wasn’t my favourite Tall Stories production, they have certainly succeeded in producing superb children’s theatre consistently and they absolutely had the young audience at The Lowry under their spell for the full 55 minutes.

-Kristy Stott

Room on the Broom is at The Lowry, Salford until Sunday 12th April 2015. It then continues the tour at The Lyceum Theatre in Crewe for 14th and 15th April. Room on the Broom continues to tour nationally until 29th August 2015. For further UK tour dates click here.