George’s Marvellous Medicine

“Small boys are not to be trusted,” says the titular George’s gleefully malevolent Grandma in this new production—by Dundee Rep’s Associate Artistic Director Joe Douglas—of Stuart Paterson’s Scottish-tinged adaptation of this Roald Dahl tale. She’s right, of course; frightened out of his wits by her scary talk of insect-eating and having witch-like powers, young George Killy-Kranky decides to get his revenge by concocting his own version of her brown medicine, using a plethora of household solutions which, to everyone’s surprise, ends up giving Grandma a really different perspective on the world.

Big, bold and modern, this production of George’s Marvellous Medicine benefits from a strong cast who definitely make the most of what they're given.

The main challenge facing anyone adapting George’s Marvellous Medicine for the stage is that the original book is among Dahl’s shortest works, with pretty much a linear plot which doesn’t offer much variety beyond its initial big reveal. Of course, that could also be said of most fairy-tale based pantomimes, and there’s certainly a whiff of the kid-friendly anarchy shared by the best of that breed; Douglas’s production is big, bold and full of bright colours. The somewhat abstract set, designed by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita, enables the different rooms in George’s farmhouse home—open plane and outlined in neon—to appear from either above or the wings, as and when required. Thanks to lighting designer Mark Doubleday, the plain backdrop shifts through a rainbow of bold colours, reflected by the illuminated candy-floss clouds which hang above both stage and audience. It may not glitter like some “traditional” pantomimes, but it’s certainly memorable.

The titular role of George alternates between Dundee Rep Ensemble’s two Graduate interns: Rebekah Lumsden (on the night of this review) and Laurie Scott, with whoever isn’t playing the role instead featuring as one of the colourful body-stocking-ed figures representing aspects of George’s imagination. Lumsden certainly nails the physicality of a young boy; more, she manages to ensure that George doesn’t simply come across as cruelly vindictive. Admittedly, she’s helped by the undoubted star-turn of the show—Ann Louise Ross excels as the seemingly immobile Grandma, shrunk within her oversized armchair, a gnarled vision of purple-hair. Emily Winter, meantime, gets some good laughs as Mary, George’s mother, as she slowly cracks under the strain of it all. Alas Ewan Donald appears to have been gifted the short straw as George’s somewhat naive and overly-enthusiastic dad. Irene Macdougall, meantime, may not revel in having “Giant Chicken” on her CV, but her arrival is undoubtedly the biggest moment of the second half, and her choreography ensures some real laughs from the youngest members of the audience.

Big, bold and modern, this production of George’s Marvellous Medicine benefits from a strong cast who definitely make the most of what they're given. Nevertheless, the overall result feels at times slightly laboured and all-to-singular in its narrative for anyone above the age of 10.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

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The Blurb

George's Marvellous Medicine was first published in 1981 and remains one of his most popular stories for children.

George's nasty old grandma needs teaching a lesson. George decides the best remedy for her grumpiness is a special home-made medicine. But Grandma gets more than she bargained for!