George lives on a farm with his hard-working parents and his maternal grandmother who is nothing short of a hag. She makes everyone’s life miserable with her constant fault-finding and demanding ways. She takes daily medication which, as George points out, clearly isn’t working – she isn’t getting any nicer – so he decides to make her some himself.
The home brew makes grandma grow so tall and large that she shoots through the roof. It has the same effect on the farm animals and George’s father is delighted; he sees it as a solution to all farmers’ problems and wants to mass produce and market it. Batch two has the reverse effect, Grandma shrinks to the size of a grain of sand – then disappears altogether. That’s it, end of story – somehow it works brilliantly in the book, but my concern was how that could be turned into ninety minutes of entertaining theatre.
I need not have worried, Wood had it covered. First, he inserted a handful of fantasy scenes (not in the original work) where George imagined a different grandma, then, with a stroke of pantoesque genius; he turned the tale into an exercise in audience participation. From the very start, George included the children; he recruited them as his friends and asked for their approval for each ingredient before adding it to the eponymous brew. Amazingly, when it was time to produce the second lot, it was the children in the audience who remembered all the ingredients and they called them out to George.
The set design and props also deserve a special mention. The family home is a cross-section of a farm house, so we were able to see George mixing his potion in every room. The fake farm animals themselves are delightful, cute piglets, chickens that are trundled across the stage at regular intervals and a giant bull that occasionally pokes its head on to the stage.
Theatre is never a cheap night out and for a holiday treat for the family there is a lot of competition in the cinema at the moment, but where film will always be available on DVD in a few months’ time, live theatre won't! If you have the chance, go and see George’s Marvellous Medicine; it is well worth it.