HANNAH MIRSKY recommends this occasionally smug but always charming production of Roald Dahl’s great tale.
ADC, 11pm, Wed 6th – Sat 9th February, Wed £5/£4, Thu-Sat £6/£5
Director: Emily Burns
If someone told me that they didn’t like Roald Dahl, I’d suspect them of being either not entirely honest, or not entirely human. He somehow manages to be whimsical but never twee, effortlessly hilarious and honestly touching. It’s quite a lot for a stage production to live up to, but Esio Trot manages be just as charming the novel: if you’re a person of any description, you’ll enjoy it.
In format, this production is, pretty appropriately, as much like a kid’s TV show as possible. Jack Mosedale as narrator Alfie sits at the front of the stage, chatting slightly sardonically to the audience (and munching on celery), while the other actors deliberately over-enunciate their lines on brightly coloured sets. The frequent use of loud music can occasionally be a little distracting, but it certainly adds to the storybook feel, and a song-and-dance number involving the juggling of tortoises is certainly one of the highlights.
But the children’s television tropes don’t mean that this show is talking down to its audience. It all gets rather meta at times, with characters questioning the theatrical tropes and squabbling with the narrator. An even more simple joy is the lines themselves: where else would you find the phrase ‘with all the affection of a Lebanese grandmother’, or the spectacular threat ‘I’ll buy you an iPhone and stand on it’? At one point, Mosedale had to stop himself laughing along with the audience, but this was more than forgiveable – the play’s so bloody funny that it’d be difficult not to laugh.
This is a very self-aware show, and it does occasionally border on smug in the knowledge of its own charm. Jokes about ‘that man who wrote those books about fantastic foxes and giant peaches’ are an amusing allusion, but go on a little too long: they seem a gratuitous way of reminding the audience that the book this show is based upon is really very good. At moments like this it feels that the cast confidently believes it doesn’t actually matter what they do, because everyone loves Roald Dahl anyway. (Kind of true, but that’s no excuse.)
In general, though, this production is a delight. Student theatre can sometimes take itself a little too seriously, and Esio Trot is refreshing in its unpretentious embracing of fun. It’s not trying to plumb the depths of the human psyche or trying to reinvent theatrical convention. It’s just trying, with the help of some toy tortoises and a stick of celery, to make sure the audience enjoy themselves. It’ll make you smile.