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September 14, 2016

On His 100th birthday, The Magic That Was Roald Dahl


“Somewhere inside all of us is the power to change the world.”

The much loved children’s author, Roald Dahl, would have been 100 on September 13. His stories were an amalgamation of well-rounded characters and creative punch lines with didactic value.  For instance, the one mentioned above is from one of his most famous works “Matilda.” And they sure hold true for Dahl himself, as he plays a huge role in fueling our imaginations. He took us through lands of chocolates, made us love giants and peaches and gave us new friends like the fantastic Mr.Fox.

So, on this auspicious occasion, Samuel French salutes the magical man with some everlasting gobstoppers, giant peaches and golden tickets. And we look into his contribution into the world of theatre.

David Wood, a British playwright, was probably the first to visualize Dahl’s novel’s as on stage productions; he adapted eight of his novels to children’s plays. In an interview conducted with Samuel French in 2015, Wood discussed his relationship with Dahl’s work. He said, “ I do genuinely admire Dahl, the storyteller and I think he is very very clever.” He continued, “ I think the ingredients in his stories, which are the classic fairytale ingredients, work incredibly well on stage.” Wood also said that a child audience gets emotionally wound up and that Dahl’s use of fantasy and magic is theatrical and appealing.

Besides writing for the young humans, Dahl was also known for his mature plot lines and mystery novels for adults and for his service in the British Royal Air Force during World War II. Needless to say, the man has experienced it all.

Dennis Kelly did a wonderful adaptation of Dahl’s Matilda, a musical with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. The musical won seven Olivier Awards in 2012 and continues to dazzle the broadway stage with its upbeat music.“You have to look to Matilda a little bit to see the origins of Harry Potter, I reckon,” said Minchin in an interview. “It has a hero with great odds stacked against her, who, through nothing but books and reading and the power of her own incredible brain, sort of vanquishes everyone. We love stories about genius and stuff.” New York Times critic, Ben Brantley said, “ “Matilda works with astonishing slyness and grace to inculcate us with its radical point of view. [It] is about words and language, books and stories, and their incalculable worth as weapons of defense, attack and survival … Above all it’s an exhilarating tale of empowerment.” New York’s Shubert Theatre saw a first of the performances in early 2013 and has continued with many changes in cast. But reported this April that the play will have its final curtain call in January 2017, after completing 1,555 performances. That’s a whole lot of performances by the little ones on stage but as they said in the musical. “ even if you’re little, you can do a lot.”

Dahl often found inspiration around him. The Daily Mail’s piece said that Dahl’s big friendly giant was none other than his friend Walter Saunders. “Like the friendly giant, he had big ears, broad shoulders and hands like bunches of bananas.” As Wood had mentioned, Dahl is known for his characters. And one of his most memorable characters is as tall as 24 feet, also known as the big friendly giant. The story of The BFG tells the remarkable tale of a large giant and a tiny orphan Sophie and their adventures into the fantasmic lands of Giant County, Dream County and Buckingham Palace. The story was first published in 1975 and then written into a book of its own in 1982. The first stage performance in 1991, at Wimbledon Theatre. The Seattle Children’s Theatre(SCT) had done a slightly revised version of the play, last seen in the 2002-2003 season. As per the company’s website,according to SCT Artistic Director Linda Hartzell, “This is one of our most requested plays of all time. With its gorgeous language, fantastical characters, and ingenious puppetry, it’s no wonder Roald Dahl and his Big Friendly Giant are so beloved.” We couldn’t agree more!

“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like, as long as someone loves you,” is one of Dahl’s most sought after lines ever. Dahl’s characters were not entirely a manifestation of his imagination, they bore some resemblance to the people in his life. Such as the grandmother in The Witches. Dahl’s official website states that the grandmother was a tribute to his own mother. Unfortunately, the play never made it to U.S grounds. It was first presented by Clarion Productions at the Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield in 1992. Its most recent production was early on this year, at the Curve, Leicester. Even after all these years, the play was deemed as a “Fearless and faithful adaptation of Roald Dahl’s diabolical story adds an electrifying new score and really delivers on its ‘stupendously scary’ promise”  as stated by The Guardian.

Dahl has many theatrical titles up his alley, including the famous James and the Giant Peach, The Magic Finger, and Fantastic Mr.Fox to name a few.  And as the world celebrates Roald Dahl Day today, Samuel French thanks the magical man for his contribution to our imaginations.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”