The Bookseller – Commentary – Roald and the IP factory

Although Roald Dahl died in 1990, he remains a dominant cultural presence. His books have been translated into 63 languages ​​and have sold over 300 million copies worldwide. His work is an essential part of most children’s journeys as readers, and his brand of delightful, sometimes even cheerfully naughty but child-centric fiction remains as popular today as ever.

This month a film version of Matilda – Dahl’s beloved 1988 book about a precocious girl with a passion for reading – will hit UK cinemas ahead of a December release on Netflix. The film is directed by Matthew Warchus – the art director of Old Vic – who also helmed the 2010 musical the film is based on. The show, first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, featured typically witty lyrics by Tim Minchin and a book by playwright and screenwriter David Kelly and Bertie Carvel as the terrorizing headmistress for children Miss Trunchbull, who likes nothing better than throwing children by their pigtails, on stage. Lyn Gardner called it “an anarchically joyous, joyfully wicked and ingenious musical adaptation” in her five-star Guardian review. More than 10 years later, it remains a West End staple.

The Matilda The film isn’t the only example of Dahl’s fertile, murky and subversive imagination awaiting us this fall. Leeds Playhouse will stage a new version of the musical Charlie and the chocolate factory. Premiering in 2013, the original co-production between Warner Bros. Theater Ventures and Neal Street Productions ran in the West End for four years and moved to Broadway. Leeds Playhouse are clearly hoping that David Greig’s adaptation of the story of a young boy who finds a much-wanted golden ticket allowing him to enter Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, will provide them with seasonal success and a UK tour. in 2023 has already been announced. James Brining, artistic director of Leeds Playhouse, is the latest director who will have to figure out how to tackle the Oompa-Loompas on stage, while actor Gareth Snook will play the eccentric owner of the chocolate factory (played so memorably and memorably on screen of Gene Wilder in the 1970s film).

Last year, it was announced that Netflix had acquired the rights from the Roald Dahl Story Company, meaning this process of ongoing adaptation and reimagining isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon, if not speed up.

It’s not hard to see why Dahl remains so popular. He excelled at evoking children’s fears and hopes. He did not fear wickedness or talk to his readers. Most of Dahl’s back catalog – including The BFG, Danny the world champion and James and the giant peach – has been staged over the years, some titles multiple times. Irish playwright Enda Walsh had a crack at the grotesque double act of morons at the Royal Court in 2015 while Jeremy Dyson of ‘The League of Gentlemen’ turned five of Dahl’s most adult-oriented Tales of the unexpected stories – including the macabre The Southern Man – in the anthology show “Twisted Tales” for the Lyric Hammersmith in 2011.

The Roald Dahl Story Company licenses Dahl’s work to organizations wishing to adapt his stories or, as they put it, “to protect and develop the cultural value of Roald Dahl’s work.” In 2018, she branched out into theatre, becoming more actively involved in developing stage adaptations and seeking co-production partnerships. Earlier this year, for example, the company co-produced a version of The wonderful story of Henry Sugar at the Perth Theater in Scotland. Part of a collection of stories aimed at somewhat older readers, Henry Sugar is not one of the writer’s best-known works. At the Perth Theatre, this story of a wealthy gambler who sets out to acquire the ability to see through playing cards, received what The Stage described as a “smart and thoughtful” adaptation from playwright Rob Drummond.

Last year, it was announced that Netflix had acquired the rights from the Roald Dahl Story Company, meaning this process of ongoing adaptation and reimagining isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon, if not speed up.

Future adaptations, in addition to Matilda film, include a series based on Charlie and the chocolate factory by Taika Waititi and another version of Henri Sucre starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role and directed by Wes Anderson, who is in shape when it comes to Dahl, with his charming animated version of Fantastic Mr Fox in which the main character was voiced by George Clooney.

When closing the deal, Netflix promised a slew of animated and live-action films and TV series as well as theatrical productions and “immersive experiences” based on Dahl’s imagination. This fits with the current appetite for building fictional megaverses, though it’s also hard not to think about all that expansion in relation to Wonka, the ultra-capitalist in the top hat, Dahl’s work being developed and repackaged, as a kind of eternal IP gobstopper.

Kimberly B. Nguyen