Danny The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl.
Adapted by David Wood. Directed by James Scott. Honest Puck Theatre. Perform Australia Fyshwick. January 10 – 17 2020. Bookings www.perform.edu.au or 1300 908 905.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
Danny. The Champion of The World marks a notable departure from other works by Roald Dahl. There are no amazing chocolate factories, giant peaches, big friendly giants or twisted takes on familiar nursery rhymes or popular folk tales. There are no magic tricks or bewildering illusions. Instead there is the magic of a very different kind. It is the magic of a love between a single parent father and his young son. There is the magic of friendship and community spirit. There is the magic of wit against the stupidity of arrogance and malevolence. And there is the magical triumph of good over evil.
|Leo Scott as Danny. James Scott as Dad
At its heart, Danny The Champion of the World is a story of the nature of goodness and kindness. It is a simple story about poacher and garage owner William (James Scott), his son Danny (Leo Scott) and their battle to survive the oppressive use of wealth and privilege by the local landowner Mr Hazel (David Cain). Honest Puck Theatre has staged a simple, honest and unpretentious production of Dahl’s affectionate story and David Wood’s skilful and natural adaptation. The representational set effectively depicts the look and feel of William’s caravan, fuel pump and garage. The audience needs no glitz or glamour. Set construction by Sam Wilde and scenic art by Rachel Pengilly evoke a country town setting on one side of the stage and the forest on the other. Sergeant Samway’s pride and joy is his cut-out Austin Seven and Victor Hazel’s car is given a more expensive sheen. Puppet designer Jenny Oliver has created loveable hens and colourful pheasants and puppeteers Odessa Johnson and Lily Mae Harrison allow the puppets their character without intrusion. All in all, the setting of the play is free from artifice, a virtue reflected in the performances by natural young actor, Leo Scott and his experienced real life Dad, James Scott.
|David Cain as Victor Hazel. Katherine Berry as Rabbetts
Director James Scott maintains a careful eye for the qualities of good children’s theatre. The villagers, Dad, Danny, Sergeant Samways (Brendan Kelly), Mrs. Clipstone (Monica Engel), Dr. Spencer (Veronica Constance) and taxi driver Charlie Kinch (Katherine Berry) give natural and believable performances, while the villains of the piece, Hazel and offsider Rabbetts and Council Inspector , all played by Katherine Berry capture the exaggeration of villainy with effective energy.
Younger audience members are kept involved with additional participation as they are invited to sign a petition against the council’s eviction notice and then make the sounds to drive the pheasants away from the Hazel’s cruel shooting party. Participation maintains audience interest and excitement, but in Honest Puck’s uncomplicated production it is the power of the human element of Dahl’s story that best engages young and old alike. The universal battle between good and bad and the victorious triumph of goodness and kindness wield their magic. Effectively used sound effects and music heighten mood and action, operated by technical operator Patrick Uran. Only the initial subdued lighting of the opening poaching sequence obscured the action. Lighting designers have a habit at times of preferring mood over visibility. A small but cautionary quibble.
|David Cain as Victor Hetzel. Veronica Constance as Head Teacher.
Brendan Kelly as Mr. Jackson
For fans of Roald Dahl, Honest Puck’s Danny The Champion of the World is a faithful and thoroughly enjoyable interpretation and production of a story that captures the heart and excites the imagination. I look forward to and highly commend future holiday productions for children by a company that understands their audience and the power of storytelling.