George’s Marvellous Medicine at the King Street Theatre, in co-production with Epicentre Theatre Company, is one of three Roald Dahl shows currently playing in Sydney, along with the musical Matilda and Revolting Rhymes & Dirty Beasts. With such a heavy line-up of big theatres producing stories inspired by Roald Dahl, the competition for an audience is high. Yet, with grace and flair, the adapted co-production of George’s Marvellous Medicine lights up the stage and is a worthy delight for both young and old audiences.
The show has completely sold out its ten-day long season, but I had the chance to head along to one of the evening shows. Although the crowd wasn’t as rowdy as I expect the 10am Saturday shows would have been, it was still a joy to sit among young kids and watch as they interacted with the performers with glee.
Adapted for the stage by David Wood, this Dahl story is truly marvelous, one that I had actually never heard of despite being an avid Dahl fan as a child (and as an adult). George’s Marvellous Medicine was first published in 1981, and the play, like the book itself, follows a young boy, George Kranky (Alex Wickett), as he attempts to turn his grumpy old grandmother (Jeannie Gee) into a nice and kind grandmother. George lives on his parents’ farm and has been looking forward to spending his school holiday reading and relaxing. But the arrival of his grandmother turns all of that upside down. We follow George as he decides to conjure up a strong medicine made entirely of household items such as toothpaste, curry powder, floor polish, grease and much, much more for Granny, which ends up making her incredibly tall but still just as nasty. A chicken on the farm also drinks the brew, and turns into a giant chicken (George Mulis) that begins to terrorise the house. George’s mother Mary (Sarah Purdue) and father Killy (Jaymie Knight) soon discover what George has done; Mary faints and Killy hatches a plan to remake the medicine so that they can have a farm full of large animals which he believes will make them rich and famous.
Alas, with every moral story and especially a Roald Dahl story, this plan soon goes downhill. In the second half of George’s Marvellous Medicine, George attempts to remake the medicine with the help of the audience (the kids shout at George and tell him what ingredients he did and didn’t use before). The result is a medicine that makes both the chicken and George’s grandmother get so small that they disappear into thin air. The audience is left, then, with the Kranky family relieved that Grandma is now gone and out of their hair and with a few fewer chickens to their name.
It was incredibly entertaining to watch the audience interact with the story in real-time. This sort of playfulness and open-minded fun is limited mostly to kids, but when I experience it in fleeting moments like I did the other night, it makes me reminiscence on what my childhood was like and how much I miss being able to express myself as freely as children do.
I’ve previously reflected on living with depression on lip magazine. I explained how I spent a morning at my old job feeling very stressed and upset, but couldn’t express how I felt and had to hold it in because that’s what adults are supposed to do. During my lunch break, I watched a child burst into tears after dropping his ice cream on the ground. This reaction made his mother come rushing to him, and she immediately consoled him, hugged him, and told him everything was going to be okay. I felt at odds with my feelings at that point – on the one hand I knew I had to be professional and act like an adult and get on with my day, but on the other hand I really just wanted to break out into a tantrum and receive some kind words from those around me.
In George’s Marvellous Medicine, not only did I feel this push and pull of being an adult but wishing I was a kid again, but I also noticed that in the story itself there is a barrier between having fun and growing up. George is given responsibilities during his school holiday, such as being asked to clean the bathroom and take care of his cranky grandmother and he is, understandably, unhappy about this. It made me think, at what age do we start accepting that our responsibilities are what we have to do, and at what age can we still say no to them? Living with depression and especially moving out of home at the young age of eighteen has meant for me that I’ve felt like an adult for a long, long time. I feel like I missed out on being irresponsible at many stages in my life, and I think this contributed to me feeling almost jealous of the kids around me at George’s Marvellous Medicine.
However, lucky for me, the theatre space is a dark place and I was able to let my inner child shine through without any apprehension. I, too, participated in helping George make his medicine, in heating it up for him, in laughing and hollering as the chickens grew big and then small. And after I left King Street Theatre, I took with me that sense of wonder and playfulness, and realised that I could carry this with me wherever I go. If I have to hide it sometimes, like when I’m at work or at the grocery store, I will (if I must). But just because I’m hiding it, doesn’t mean that I’m not feeling, experiencing and enjoying that utter, beautiful freedom of just being exactly who I am; when I want, and where I want.