Theater review: The Big Friendly Giant
Written by Kris Collingridge
Seattle “Chiddler’s” Theatre revives audience favorite
I saw The Big Friendly Giant the first time Seattle Children’s Theatre produced it, back in 2002, with my then-8-year-old son. He goggled at the quartet of threatening, human-flesh-eating giants who appeared onstage to flashing lights and the wailing of a siren. They were good and scary, and it was exactly the type of thing to make his monster-loving heart beat faster.
Five years later, I’m sitting in the audience hoping the giant-monsters won’t be as intense as I remembered, because this time, I’m with a 7-year-old girl, and — like the Queen of England who shows up later in the play — she will not be amused by the mayhem.
This time around, Fleshlumpeater, Bonecruncher, Bloodbottler and Meatdripper are bumbling goofs in earth tones whose silly voices emanate from oversized puppet heads. Yes, there’s talk of dining tours of Europe, with humans as the main course, but the most frightening thing about these giants are their names.
It is something of a loss to the production from a theatrical point of view. The scary giants lent an energy to the show that reflected Roald Dahl’s casually subversive storytelling — life is scary in Dahl’s world, especially for children. The toned-down version won’t scare the pants off your 5-year-old, though, so I can’t quibble with the decision.
English orphan Sophie can’t sleep one night and, looking out her window in hopes of seeing something exciting during the “witching hour,” spies a giant — known as "The BFG," short for "Big Friendly Giant" — in the street. He sees her, too, and whisks her off to his country, where they avoid the bullying giant quartet, catch dreams (in a lovely sequence that features a cabinet full of jars with twinkling, candy-colored lights inside) and drink soda pop together.
They discover that Fleshlumpeater, Bonecruncher, Bloodbottler and Meatdripper plan to raid England for a meal, and visit Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace to warn her of the plot. They’re well-received and have tea with the queen in the palace ballroom; the giants are apprehended and imprisoned; the BFG goes back to his country with the thanks of a grateful nation and Sophie goes to live at the queen’s place instead of the unfriendly orphanage.
It’s silly fun enhanced by the BFG’s fanciful mangling of the English language — children are “chiddlers,” people are “human beans,” a giant gourdlike vegetable is a “snozzcumber,” and there’s an extended sequence on the joys of “wizzbanging,” which in human society is caused by eating too many beans, but in giant country happens after taking a swig of soda pop. The BFG’s dialect is one of the great pleasures of this play.
Seattle actor Charles Leggett is earnest and sweet as the BFG, while Jennifer Sue Johnson is back as the plucky Sophie. Anthony Leroy Fuller, Morgan Rowe, Caety Sagoian and Connor Toms play the giant quartet and various other characters. Toms is especially amusing as a boy who dreams that he gives advice to the president of the United States, while Anthony Leroy Fuller, as his father, stands onstage dressed in a pink towel and takes Toms’ disrespect as if it were perfectly natural.
The giant puppet-heads and Sophie puppet (manipulated by Johnson and used to show Sophie’s diminutive size relative to the BFG) were created by Douglas Paasch, whose imaginative and beautiful work is often seen in SCT productions.
The show, produced on the smaller stage of the Eve Alvord Theatre, with a small cast and relatively simple sets and props, is a gem for families with small kids. The story is easy to follow, Sophie’s friendship with the giant is gentle and humorous, and the defanged giant quartet theme adds some tension to the plot without inducing real fear in sensitive kids. Dreamy, starry-sounding music adds to a mood of magic and wonder. The 7-year-old girl with me loved everything about it.
The Big Friendly Giant runs through Dec. 30 at Seattle Children’s Theatre. Tickets are $16-$34. The show is recommended for ages 5 and up. For tickets, call the box office at 206-441-0442.
Originally published in the December, 2007 print edition of ParentMap.