10th Feb – 3rd July 2016
For ages 7-12
I grew up in the village-next-door to Great Missenden, the place Roald called home for 36 years. The village was a Dahl-lover’s dream, filled with bits of his books – the petrol pumps from Danny the Champion of the World just casually sitting on the high street, the tree from Fantastic Mr Fox perfectly visible on the hill, the library from Matilda that I could actually visit, regularly. Once a year, ‘Gipsy House’ – the Dahl home – would open to the public: the gardens filled with children who sat under trees listening to his stories, explored his extensive grounds, and peeked inside his writing hut. His imagination was genuinely part of my childhood landscape, and I was as immersed in his universe as I thought it was possible to be: until today, when I stepped into The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl.
“We’ve just tried to capture a feeling,” says Laura Dockrill, who wrote the narration that accompanies the experience in a stylistic voice as close to Dahl’s as we are likely to get. Hers is the best description of this interactive, multi-sensory Roald Dahl journey, which lets you “soak in a bath of his brain bubbles” – not a bad way to celebrate the great storyteller’s centenary year. In fact, The Wondercrump World, is literally about feeling, about touching and exploring, listening, even smelling – there’s no exhibition text or graphic, just room upon room of Dahl’s stories presented in such a way that you can live inside them. Dahl’s wartime plane crash in Libya? Stand on desert sands alongside the wreckage. The Buckinghamshire woods he walked through each day? Clamber over a stile and wander through them. Studded throughout it all are archival gems from The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, from pieces of handwritten manuscript on Roald’s favourite ruled yellow paper, to his size 13 sandal, sent to Quentin Blake as an example of the Big Friendly Giant’s fashion.
Grown-ups remain another species – one prone to frequent “whizz bangs” – though Dahl’s gleeful disdain for adults is muted just enough to allow one to guide our tour. This grown-up tells us that Dahl liked each of his books to have a moral – a fact so surprising as to reveal new shades of the author’s genius. The takeaway message from The Wondercrump World is that “it’s very possible to make something good out of something bad”, a lesson embodied in the terrible school report of a boy who went on to do wonderful things. From Dahl’s biography, we see his characters and stories grow; glimpsing the roots makes his imagination seem unending but sort of natural, in a most encouraging way.
The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl is for everyone who has ever wanted to whisper their dreams into a bottle for the BFG, or try out telekinesis like Matilda, or feel the gooey insides of a giant peach. But it’s also for everyone else – you don’t need to have read a word of Dahl to be swept up in the phizz-whizzing, gloriumptious fun of it all.
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