Danny The Champion Of The World, Brentwood Theatre, Brentwood, Essex
This small theatre, which was jam-packed for the Civic Night, has a reputation for choosing very different shows for its seasonal presentation. Roald Dahl's sympathetic tale of a boy and his father running a country garage together and battling whatever modern life throws at them, adapted by David Wood, isn't gloomy in the least.
Whatever happens to them, Danny's Dad is confident that things will work out somehow. Their very snug caravan is a marvellously constructed triumph of minimalism that rotates smoothly thanks to the well-rehearsed stage crew. This marvel, plus the equally delightful practical miniature Austin Seven based on a mobility scooter, plus all the other cars and set were built by Will Trubridge, Iain Stewart, John Dobson, Robin Winder and John Gadd..
Director Ray Howes has inspired his seven-strong cast to create a thoroughly heart warming production, very simply and gently staged, yet full of laughter as well as “will they make it or won't they?” for the audience.
Porl Matthews as our young hero finds every scrap of youthful determination in the character while his wide eyes help to tell his internal emotional tale, qualities that mask his real life maturity. His Dad is played by Jackson Pentland who gives a very natural performance of a true son of the soil and poacher.
Their hated enemy is Mr Hazell, Lee White's mannered proprietor of the estate who with his henchmen is determined to get the little family out of their home. If I say that Lee steals every scene he's in that's not a bad thing. Because with his villain's thin moustache, natty tailoring, enormous eyes and immaculate timing he is such an effective baddy.
Then on Danny's side there are tomboy Charlie (Joelle Campbell), homely Mrs Clipstone (Elka Lee-Green) the Vicar's wife, community leader Dr Spencer (Abi Taylor Jones) plus the perfect bobby on his bicycle from Allen Watts.
Set design is by David Zelly who, with lighting designer Paul Williams's star-spangled woodland, has created such an excellently used acting space. Lynne Trubridge's good costume designs hark back to a generalised Fiftyish sort of past while Porl Matthews (who is a puppeteer in real life) has created flocks of realistic chickens and pheasants with a genuine sense of humour of their own.
This quiet triumph, apart from when the audience are being taught to be beaters for the shoot, runs for two hours and five minutes including interval.