Twisted and Delightful

Posted on January 25th, 2011 by

In America, it’s pretty difficult to find someone who does not know the name Willy Wonka.  Whether you were introduced to him by Gene Wilder, Johnny Depp, or (hopefully) Roald Dahl, people know him.  Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales has a voice that is definitely related to Wonka; our group went to see the aforementioned show at the Lyric at Hammersmith Theatre.

After seeing some big comedic playwrights– an Oscar Wilde show, a Shakespearean comedy – this show switched gears from the standards of British comedy to highlight the blacker sense of humor found here.  The show is not an adaptation of any of Dahl’s beloved children’s stories, though there is a child in the cast.  These tales come from the stories Dahl wrote for adults; often unsettling and sometimes sad, the show encapsulates a particular brand of disturbing with a smirk.

It is tempting to review the show, knowing the stories as well as I do, and seeing them translated to the stage challenges some of the things that make the stories wonderful and suspenseful.  However, regardless of my personal opinion on the show, I think it shows a side to the British national identity that we haven’t really seen.  Comedy here can be sly, based on snide comments and metaphors about the government; it too can be bedlam, stemming from mistaken identity and miscommunication; it also can hold a bit of a macabre edge and give everyday concepts sinister or strange roots.

The show’s structure showed a different definition of twist – instead of having the five stories that were included told one at a time as straightforward vignettes, there was one story providing a through line, “Galloping Foxley,” the most autobiographical story about schoolboy torture and growing up.  Having this break up the other stories gave a feeling of a dream, with the reality of the Foxley story broken by these other strange scenes.

Take, for example, the story known as “Man of the South” in which a trivial bet about a lighter is made with ridiculously high stakes – a Cadillac for a finger.  Much of the story dramatizes the performance of the wager, waiting for one of the characters to lose a finger – and on stage, it is a very tense moment – and then, there is a very swift and uncomplicated denouement, albeit with one last (unsettling in the book, more comical in the show) moment.  It is also interesting to note that the man with the gambling problem, the one betting a Cadillac for a finger, is Spanish – or at least that’s what is implied by the name Carlos and his accent.  There is a sense in this show that other characters can be eerie, but the person who is non-British is overtly unhinged.  This convention (seen in other shows as well) shows that this particular convention is beloved here, but it is funny because it is not how the British as a people act.  It is a strange dichotomy that the people generally playing the hot-tempered Spaniards are British, yet playwrights would never write the hot-tempered Englishman.

Seeing this show with this specific brand of humor, it is very easy to see where British comic groups like Monty Python came from – just like the rest of us, loving Willy Wonka.


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