What a stinker! But in a good way…

Mr Stink by David Walliams

mr-stink-196x300After watching the BBC’s enjoyable TV version of Mr Stink at Christmas, I was inspired to read the book to see what Walliams, who adapted his own book for the TV, and put in a cameo as the Prime Minister, was like on the page. I had read somewhere that the book was more ‘Dahlesque’, so I passed a pleasant hour in bed this morning seeing if that was so.

Ironically, on first impressions you’re immediately drawn to comparisons with Roald Dahl by Quentin Blake’s illustrations, Dahl and Blake having had a long and profitable collaboration which Walliams looks likely to repeat. But onwards to the story.

1. Scratch ‘N’ Sniff
Mr Stink stank. He also stunk. And if it is correct English to say he stinked, then he stinked as well. He was the stinkiest stinker who ever lived.
A stink is the worst type of smell. A stink is worse than a stench. And a stench is worse than a pong. And a pong is worse than a whiff. And a whiff can be enough to make your nose wrinkle.
It wasn’t Mr Stink’s fault that he stank. He was a tramp after all. He didn’t have a home and so he never had the opportunity to have a proper wash like you and me. After a while the smell just got worse and worse.

So that’s every reader hooked and already chortling from page one.

After introducing us to Stink and his dog Duchess, we meet the other main character of the story. Chloe is a lonely schoolgirl, she’s slightly pudgy and shy. She gets bullied by Rosamund at school, and ignored by her mother at home, who dotes instead on her little sister Annabelle.  Her mother, who is a candidate for parliament is so driven, even her father is scared of her.

mr stink bbc

On the way to and from school, Chloe sees Mr Stink each day, sitting on the same bench in the park. One day she does something of ‘unimaginable kindness‘ and offers him a fiver. He refuses it, but lets her bring him and Duchess some sausages another day. Their friendship forged, things get complicated when Chloe offers him their family shed to live in…

pigpenUnderneath the malodorous humour is a serious story about bullying, compassion, and learning to stand up for and believe in yourself.  For most of the book though, the Mr Stink’s personal perfume is to the forefront, and like Schulz’s Pigpen (left), he’s oblivious to it, unless he can use it to get a seat in a coffee shop. There are some great asides about stinkiness of various sorts that couldn’t be portrayed in the TV film, and there’s a great B-U-R-P!!! that takes up around a page and a half, which is guaranteed a giggle.

The TV show was well done, Hugh Bonneville as Stink the gentleman vagabond in particular was fantastic. I liked how he lived in a big pile of leaves, which wasn’t in the book. Chloe is more attractive in the film, being tall, slim, and a bit soppy. There is much to like in both book and film, and the film largely remains true to the book, the changes being in the little details mainly.  I don’t know any children who, having read them, have not enjoyed Walliams’s books. I’m counting myself in with them now too. (8/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Mr Stink by David Walliams, Harper Collins paperback

The return of everyone’s flying car

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce

When Mr Tooting is made redundant, he decides he needs a project and, with son Jem’s help, they rebuild an ancient old camper van. Then the plan is to go globe-trotting in it. It needs new vintage sparkplugs though despite all their travails. Off they go to a special scrap yard, where they find a different rather large engine old instead.  Fitted successfully, they set off for France – Mum has always wanted to visit Paris however, it soon becomes clear that the new engine has a mind of its own. Before they know it they’re flying and they land on the top of the Eiffel Tower, causing a sensation – Ooh la la!

This is the first adventure on a whirlwind tour that will take in more sights and an encounter with a nasty Nanny and her charge, but one thing is for certain – the engine is in control for Chitty is searching for her missing parts.

This is a splendidly visual story for children from 8 or 9 upwards, made more so by great illustrations by Joe Berger accompanying the text.  There is no need to have read Ian Fleming’s original story (I haven’t), or to have seen the 1968 film scripted by Roald Dahl, (which differs significantly from the book). The members of the Tooting family are all recognisable types: The Dad who always has a plan; the calming Mum; the Goth but brainy teenager daughter; the gadget mad son; the perceptive but he’s too young to recognise it toddler.

In a nice touch of authenticity, Boyce has gone back to the origins of Fleming’s inspirations for Chitty – a series of aero-engined cars designed in the 1920s by Count Louis Zborowski.  The Tootings live in Zborowski Drive, and his name crops up all over the place as Chitty is rebuilt.

I must admit that as an adult, I preferred the build-up to their later troubles, but children will love it. (6.5/10)

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My copy was supplied by Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Matilda – A Musical at the RSC

Yesterday was one of the best musical theatre experiences of my life – my daughter thought it was better than Oliver (which we saw in 2009, reviewed here).  I’m torn between the familiar big spectacle of Oliver which I have always loved, and this wonderful new piece of theatre, adapted from Roald Dahl’s children’s classic Matilda, which deserves to become a classic production too.

Hopes were high from the offset, as we know and love the Danny De Vito film starring Pam Ferris as Miss Trunchbull and Mara Wilson in the lead role.  Would the stage show be a musical version of that, or would it have it’s own identity?  I’m pleased to say, totally the latter!   Tim Minchin, the Australian comedian, is behind the music which is tuneful and contemporary, and witty lyrics which are full of good rhymes and puns, and together with Dennis Kelly who wrote ‘the book’, they’ve a hit on their hands directed by Matthew Warchus.

Being an RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) production, it was detailed and slick and made full use of the main aisle and balcony spots to take the action off stage – notably catching Amanda’s body when Miss Trunchbull swung her round like a hammer and flung her off-stage (that was a great stunt!). The set was marvellous – with higgledy-piggledy letter tiles surrounding the proscenium and all sorts of motorised parts appearing from the jutting out stage – notably the school desks. It was nice that the cast weren’t miked up either which can be rather distracting, but there was subtle space amplification which was fine.  The orchestra were above the stage behind the letters.

Now to the cast … Wow!  Paul Kaye was Mr Wormwood – (you may remember him from TV as Dennis Pennis – spoof celeb interviewer).  He cavorted around the stage like a manic Michael Palin in spiv mode – very funny, and he also kept the audience entertained during the interval, coming on half-way through to do some comedy (still in character) and sing a song which got everyone back to their seats – clever eh!  Mrs Wormwood played by Josie Walker, was a total and utter horror as the salsa-dancing mother who didn’t realise she was pregnant.  Her salsa routine with Rudolpho, her dance instructor played by Michael Rouse, wouldn’t have got many points from the Strictly Come Dancing judges, but was very funny and ‘loud’.  Poor Miss Honey (Lauren Ward) was very sweet and understanding, and had to learn to be brave.

Then we have Miss Trunchbull – played as a muscle-bound, big-bosomed grotesque with a steel-grey bun by Bertie Carvel (left), and all the time he was on stage you couldn’t take your eyes off him/her.  He was totally unrecognisable in this guise, and was totally monstrous yet ridiculous and very, very scary each time he said the word ‘chokey’.

And lastly, we come to the children, and Matilda in particular. There are three casts alternating with the three Matildas, and we saw Kerry Ingram who is eleven, but looks younger in the title role (she’s in the pics above). She was amazing – well all of the kids were – but Matilda is such a big part and she was on stage almost all of the time – a real professional.   I take my hat off to them.

The whole was slick and beautifully performed, hilarious for both children and adults. It had with thrills aplenty, and was heart-warming at the end too – I nearly welled up when Matilda got her happy ending. It was fabulous, and I hope they can transfer it to the West End to reach a bigger audience than the limited run in Stratford allows.  10/10

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To buy Matilda from Amazon.co.uk, click below:
Film: Matilda – Special Edition [DVD] [1996]
Book: Matilda