Although it tried mightily hard, the rain couldn’t dampen spirits at Paxton House last Wednesday as a large audience enjoyed ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’.
The famous Dahl story was told in tremendous fashion by the ever impressive Illyria who made outdoor theatre look easy.
The versatility of the company must be applauded. Only a fortnight ago they entertained the Paxton crowd with Gilbert & Sullivan’s classic operetta ‘Pirates of Penzance’ and also have ‘Macbeth’ on their current show roster.
Having seen them work wonders with fellow Dahl favourite ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ in the past my expectations were high, and I’m pleased to say they were met in abundance.
I must admit, rather criminally perhaps, that while I lapped up the likes of ‘Matilda’ and ‘Esio Trot’ as a child, I never turned the pages of ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ so I was seeing it through completely fresh eyes.
But a fan of the book or not, no one in the audience could fail to be entertained by the spectacle presented in front of them.
The space in front of Paxton’s famous mansion house isn’t a small one but Illyria’s colourful set and larger than life cast filled it perfectly.
Illyria’s youngest performer to date, Chris Sawalha was both playful and naïve as title character George, while also being the narrative glue that bound the plot together.
He also enjoyed some great interaction with the audience, with both the young and the young at heart keen to join in, particularly when it came to helping George concoct the magic medicine.
The recipient of said dosage was George’s battle axe Grandma who provided Angela Nesi with a great role to get her teeth into.
With every word spouted from her mouth laced with venom, Grandma was quite a presence and although I’m sure she’s much younger and friendlier in real life, Angela Nesi made her a real force to be reckoned with.
As well as being an enjoyable role, Grandma was also a very challenging one, particularly when the medicine prompted a massive growth spurt which saw Angela rise around 20 feet in the air - where she was made to stay for most of the show, even the interval.
The sweet to Grandma’s sour was Ffion Glyn as her daughter and George’s mum Mary. She was more put upon than a coffee table but Ffion played her with an optimistic outlook and a spring in her step.
And as long suffering son-in-law Killy, Ben Goodridge also put in a fine performance.
Although the rain did force a few golf umbrellas up at various points throughout the show, it was nothing more than a small nuisance and never took attention away to the chaotic shenanigans unfolding on stage.
As well as a giant Grandma there was also a huge chicken, played by the energetic Nick Taylor, who’d be easily forgiven for being out of breath by the curtain call.
In fact all of the cast must have been running on empty by the end.
Dahl’s words allow your imagination to go anywhere and Illyria certainly let their’s run away with itself.
‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ was much more than a play with a script; the physical theatre the Paxton audience was treated to was top notch with every movement and facial expression exaggerated for maximum effect.
I’d be shocked if there is another outdoor theatre company in the UK of Illyria’s calibre.