Revolting Rhymes and pantomimes!

Posted by
Tilly Burn, Archive Assistant at the Roald Dahl Museum
Posted on
10:00am, 9th December
Museum, Revolting Rhymes
Revolting Rhymes book

Revolting Rhymes is Roald Dahl's answer to panto. Find out about this book of fairytales with twists you might not expect...

Although Roald Dahl wasn’t the biggest fan of Christmas, I think he would have agreed that a good pantomime is an excellent way to celebrate, as pantomimes and Roald Dahl stories have a few things in common;

  • Wonderful heroes, like Matilda, Charlie Bucket and Danny. They are the champions of the stories, and we want to clap and cheer them on, and see them succeed.
  • Terrible baddies, like the awful Miss Trunchbull and the gruncious Giants from The BFG. I’m sure we’d all boo The Trunchbull if we could!
  • A song or two (or three, or four!) Roald Dahl put little songs and verses into nearly all of his books. Oompa-Loompas, The Centipede from James and the Giant Peach and The BFG all have poems and songs to sing. Roald Dahl even gives his villains some catchy numbers, with The Grand High Witch singing about her hatred for children in The Witches.
  • And of course, some loveable animal sidekicks that help out our brilliant heroes. Billy in The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me gets three! Although don’t tell the Pelly I called him a sidekick…

But perhaps the biggest thing Roald Dahl’s stories and pantomimes share is the ability turn a much-loved classic tale into something completely different, and have a lot of fun along the way.

Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes

Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes are based on fairytales we all know and love. Roald rewrites six tales in his book, with Cinderella, Snow White, and Jack and The Beanstalk (to name just three) also being classic pantomimes. These stories are traditional and enduring, and because we all know them so well, they’re excellent ones to retell and spring some surprises on the audience. 

Cover of Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes

Above: He's behind you! Early edition of Revolting Rhymes.


Roald’s Cinderella, for example, wishes that her Fairy Godmother would find her a decent man, instead of the Prince who is rather blood-thirsty in the poem. The Fairy Godmother grants her wish, and Cinderella marries a lovely jam-maker, and of course she lives happily ever after.

In the first draft of this poem, the Fairy Godmother is actually a Fairy Godfather, with Roald writing:

"Fairies are nearly always she
Not this one. This one was a he.
For fairy-men can still be found
By those who choose to look around."

Handwritten notes on paper by Roald Dahl

Above: draft of Revolting Rhymes written by Roald Dahl.

This traditional character swap would make an excellent addition to any pantomime of Cinderella, as in pantomime tradition the magnificent panto Dame is often played by a male actor.

Jack and the Giant Beanstalk

One of these brilliant Dames is Jack’s mother in Jack and The Beanstalk, which is also one of the stories Roald twists around in Revolting Rhymes. In Roald’s poem, Jack’s mother climbs up the beanstalk and… well I won’t spoil the ending for you.

At the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre you can explore our fairy-tale trail over Christmas 2019 to see how Roald Dahl twisted and changed the stories in Revolting Rhymes and make up a story or two of your own. We also have a display on Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, and on some of his terrifying Giants and Witches – so if you can’t catch a pantomime this winter, you could always come and boo the Grand High Witch!

Visit the Museum

Buy the book