There’s such a treat waiting for you at the Polka Theatre, afternoons and evenings in the Main Theatre, until 14th August!
It is the centenary of Roald Dahl’s birth, so what better excuse to adapt a new version of James and the Giant Peach for the stage (this is David Wood’s eighth adaptation of Roald Dahl books – he obviously knows what he is doing).
The peach in question is an extra character in the show. It appears in different stages of life from new born to Giant, and is a glorious orange luscious bouncy thing designed by Keith Baker. The other characters are all wonderful too, loud and engaging and funny and you don’t want the action to stop.
Of course, in true Dahl style, the story is not all fun and games. It centres on a very sad little boy whose kind parents are eaten by a rhinoceros. James Henry Trotter is sent to live with two despicable aunts, Sponge and Spiker, and treated like a slave. One day he meets a mysterious man who gives him some ‘marvellous things’ made of crocodile tongues which he is instructed to drink in a potion. He trips and drops them and thinks his fortune is ruined, but the next day he finds that a tree is growing, and on the end of a branch a peach is growing. It carries on growing, larger than a melon and a pumpkin and then a hot air balloon, and soon the nasty aunts are charging the gathering crowds to come and look at it.
That night James is sent outside to pick up rubbish and finds himself embracing the peach one minute, and inside it the next. The peach revolves to show its interior full of giant insects. Some magic is definitely afoot. The Centipede nibbles on the stem and they are off on an exciting journey, taking James with them, squashing Spiker and Sponge as they roll off and out through gardens and villages. The audience has a great time helping the massive peach get over the cliffs by pushing it up towards the back of the auditorium. Oh it’s great to get your hands on that squelchy soft peach and you can see everyone is having fun trying to reach it.
Act Two begins with the peach bobbing…on the sea. James is clambering across the velvety surface of the peach, visibly happier now that he has escaped his mean and terrible aunts. They see sharks (it’s a sweet moment when James hands out shark fins to the kids in the front row to wear on their heads) and James concocts a plan whereby the seagulls above them will save them by lifting them out of the sea on threads spun by Miss Spider. The Earthworm is given the important job of being bait to tempt the gulls. He is not overly impressed at this, but he does perform his duty. The gulls swoop down and lift up the peach and we see a lovely miniature model of the peach being dragged through the air with the boy and insects on top of it.
But then the Centipede falls off into the sea. It’s a beautiful serene scene with a jellyfish made of umbrellas and fairy lights and, you guessed it, James saves both the day and the Centipede.
Over night this time there’s a storm and, after sightings of a rainbow and a breakfast of peach juice, an aeroplane cuts their strings by mistake, causing the peach and its residents to plummet down to New York City (with help from the audience again) all the way down to the top of the Empire State Building. A child asks if he can eat some of the peach and before long all the flesh is gone and just the stone remains. Hailed as heroes, the Mayor asks them to stay in Central Park, which is the end of the magical and marvellous story (which James himself reveals to have written).
This production is perfect in so many ways. The kids and I loved it, as did the rest of the audience by the look of it.
It’s lovely the way James finds inner reserves of strength and finds happiness and (most importantly) friends.
It’s great the way the insects (although not all strictly insects) have fun personalities and are all larger than life, dancing and singing with verve and enthusiasm.
I personally loved the Grasshopper with his array of musical abilities (mandolin, banjo, violin, voice).
It’s always nice when the truly evil characters are squashed.
And, above all, the peach is astounding.
Really do go and see this production of James and the Giant Peach at the Polka Theatre if you can. The original book by Dahl is wonderful and dreamlike, and this show lives up to it. It is visually, musically fantastic and its message and ending spark a few tears, with me at least.
Basically, what more is there in life apart from finding good friends? Everyone sing together, ‘Let us go from this horrible hill!’
Disclaimer: We were given free tickets to see James and the Giant Peach for the purpose of this review. All opinions and photos are my own.
James and the Giant Peach is on at the Polka Theatre until 14th August and is recommended for 5-11 year olds (plus their adults). See the website for full booking details.