Praise for Twisted Tales Events

'In the past few years Twisted Tales has become a major force in the promotion and appreciation of horror fiction. As well as putting on author readings and signings at bookshops it has expanded into organising larger events, bringing authors and critics together for discussions of the field. I've been involved in quite a few of both and have found them hugely enjoyable and stimulating - I believe the audiences did as well. May Twisted Tales continue to grow and prosper! If you love the field, support them! I do.' - Ramsey Campbell

‘Twisted Tales consistently produce well-organised events for writers and readers of horror. What really distinguishes Twisted Tales for me is the intelligent themes and investigations they pursue, and the high quality of the discussions they always stimulate. As an author I've been invited to three of their events and have been pleasantly startled, to near shocked, by the attendance levels - two out of three were even sold out. I salute anyone who contributes so much to the literary and cultural life of horror fiction.’- Adam Nevill

'Twisted Tales events are wonderful... a great way of promoting 21st century horror fiction. Supported by Waterstone's Liverpool One and really well organised, Twisted Tales brings together established names in the genre as well as new voices and of course readers. Looking forward to much more to come...' - Alison J. Littlewood

Monday, 11 April 2011

Roald Dahl's Twisted Tales reviewed by Glyn Morgan

Roald Dahl's Twisted Tales
Adapted by Jeremy Dyson, directed by Polly Findlay
Liverpool Playhouse
Running until Saturday 23rd April

‘A striking debut, his stories nestle in the little vacant chink between Roald Dahl and Borges’ declared The Observer’s Adam Mars-Jones of Jeremy Dyson’s collection of short fiction, Never Trust a Rabbit (2000). Given such early comparisons, it is fitting that Dyson’s latest project is a stage adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected (1979). There have been previous adaptations of these dark and often sinister short stories, most notably in the early seasons of the TV series Tales of the Unexpected which ran for nine years from 1979 until 1988, but this is their first rendering on the stage.

Whilst answering questions at our reading event before the show, Jeremy Dyson pointed out the weight of expectation that was upon the play with many people hoping for Ghost Stories 2. Ghost Stories was Dyson’s last play, and having also seen it at the Liverpool Everyman in 2010 I can say it was a genuinely frightening, atmospheric, tour-de-force, which drew screams from the audience on multiple occasions. Dyson’s anxiety about people’s expectations of “more of the same” is well placed because Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales definitely doesn’t fit that bill; it’s something completely different, fresh, and stands up on its own terms.

Nevertheless, there are some similarities between the two plays. The format, for example, will be familiar to anyone who saw Ghost Stories with its framing narrative for short, seemingly self-contained, stories. A detailed examination could even find some similarities in the manner of both plays’ final twists but, not wanting to spoil either, I won’t reveal their endings here. The stories Dyson has adapted include ‘The Landlady’, ‘Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat’, ‘Man from the South’, ‘William and Mary’, and ‘Galloping Foxley’, though I should disclose that I haven’t read any of the original stories, nor seen the TV adaptations, and so my opinions and judgements are based on the play alone.

There are elements of humour in all of the tales, often blended with moments of high tension and/or unease. The first, ‘The Landlady’, with its dirty-looking, dishevelled eponymous B&B owner who has a fondness for taxidermy, is light-hearted but also extremely dark. Indeed, it is highly reminiscent of The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002), which Dyson co-created alongside Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith. ‘Mrs. Bixby and the Colonel’s Coat’, about a woman having an affair behind her husband's back, is the weakest of the stories with no real horror in a scenario which most members of the audience will have figured out from the beginning. In contrast, ‘Man from the South’ was possibly my favourite, partly due to the eccentric and over-the-top character of Mr. Palacios, played by Nick Fletcher, but also because of the manner in which tension is built up, the director, Polly Findlay, carefully managing audience expectations to  construct a heart-in-mouth moment which never materialises. ‘William and Mary’ is constructed around an unexpected science fictional idea: a Philosophy professor dying of cancer is tempted to continue his existence as a brain in a jar. The set design and mood evoked the classic American B-movies of the mid-twentieth century, whilst the dark humour of the previous stories was certainly present and correct. The final short story, ‘Galloping Foxley’, contains more of the wonderful tension building seen in ‘Man from the South’; however, it is also the most uncomfortable story to watch. Detailing the terrors inflicted on a young boy by a senior pupil at a boarding school, there are no laughs to be had in this story, a sinister and suitably twisted tale that, unfortunately, was the most feasible of all.

If the play had ended with ‘Galloping Foxley’ the dampening effect on the audience's mood would have destroyed all of the black humour and sly enjoyment of the preceding majority. Fortunately, both Dyson and  director, Findlay, know their craft, and the framing narrative brings the audience out of its reverie with a bang. The final act is quick and effective, in complete contrast to the tension-building moments of the preceding stories, which are ultimately diffused before they can reach their terrifying conclusion.

Having seen the play on its opening night at the Playhouse in Liverpool, there were one or two minor set malfunctions, but on the whole the directing and design was superb. As with Ghost Stories, the evocation of place and time through clever set design and lighting were flawless; you could easily believe you were watching the action unfold on a 1950s train, in a cluttered pawnshop, or in an outdoor lavatory on a winter’s morning. A combination of a rotating set and rising and falling foregrounds gives depth to the stage and allows the rapid creation of self-contained spaces within the confines of the boards, a credit to set and costume designer Naomi Wilkinson. All of this adds to the immersion that comes with Dyson’s excellent writing, and the engaging performances of the six cast members, particularly Matthew Kennedy, who was playing the young boy (on other nights in Liverpool you may see Sam Rees Bayliss instead, as they share the role).

There are no screams in Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales and there aren’t any hide-under-your-seat-scares; equally, there are no roll-in-the-aisle laughs. What we have instead is a finely honed balance of amusement and unease which works perfectly for the play’s slender 80 minute running time, but would probably be difficult to sustain for much longer. This is certainly a horror production, but it’s a much more subtle beast than Ghost Stories. Twisted Tales is the species of horror that anyone who has ever lain in bed at night wondering about the noise they can hear downstairs knows, those people know that the scenarios we construct in our minds are the most affecting; and everyone involved in this play knows it too.


Glyn Morgan is one of the co-founders of Twisted Tales. He is currently studying for his Ph.D at the University of Liverpool, his thesis looks at non-mimetic fictions of the Second World War. He maintains a blog about his studies (all to infrequently updated) here, as well as runs a popular Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club, and a Graphic Novel Reading Group.

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