To most, the Big Friendly Giant is a familiar character, whether one first read of him in Danny, the Champion of the World, in the book that bears his acronymic title, saw The BFG on stage or screen or heard of him in audio-book form. Some may never have heard his story, but still most know his name.
Some might say this is no impressive feat for a character that first came into the public consciousness in 1975, but it is the fact that the BFG has endured in the nation’s hearts is of note. This performance in The House at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, directed with ebullience and fizz by Teresa Ludovico is heartfelt.
Joshua Manning plays the titular character and is suitably big and suitably friendly. The giant’s interaction with Sophie (a solid, energetic Lara Wollington) feels earnest and allows Manning to express a more child-like interpretation. Symbolically, he is the saviour of this future generation but he feels as much a part of that, younger and fresher than the other giants, more empathetically attuned.
The contributions of the supporting players here are outstanding. Mei Mac is the most consistently comic performer. She and Mike Goodenough have wonderful synergy in their performances as Corgi and Queen. Nyron Levy is both handsomely herculean but agile in his movement sequences, with Danny Chase and Jemma Geanaus demonstrating a myriad of dance talents.
Music is played live on stage and often perfectly captures the mood, engendering emotion without forcing it upon the audience. It is particularly atmospheric in the show’s darker moments, such as when Sophie is missing and the Dark Things (a triumphant addition) cross the stage in angst. Nonetheless, one particular musical interlude is so light that it is almost gaseous – which fits the theme of the song, unfortunately. Not even the kids seemed to be laughing.
Ludovico’s vision is assertive in its conception of a children’s story come to life. She tells it with some brio. This is not The BFG by way of bildungsroman or with a lick of black paint. Its opening is eerie and there is emotional clarity in its ending, but the show is decidedly not trying too hard to be something it is not.
There is an honesty in its intent that is very easy to appreciate A problem arose with two odd jokes in its second half—whether they were offensive, or “politically incorrect,” or simply poorly delivered, I do not know—but the team may do well to avoid such material as it can make the show seem dated.
If not riotous, this show is nevertheless jocular and entertaining, and its visuals are in equal parts charming and striking. It is a show that fluctuates slightly in the consistency of its quality, but does reach great heights. ★★★★☆ Will Amott 3/12/14