Review: James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl at Colchester Mercury until August 30.

James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach - Credit: Archant

It’s not until you sit in a theatre surrounded by children, watching something rather special written for them, that you fully appreciate that, thank goodness, some of us really never do grow up completely. Because this, you could say, is simply a peach of a piece.

We older chaps and chapesses, scattered amongst our mesmerised children and grandchildren, were just as carried away by the colour, the excitement, the fun, the magic and the music of this fruitful slice of stagecraft as our charges. But we really shouldn’t be surprised because it has been adapted by David Wood who is a marvel at turning top kiddie reads into brilliant theatre.

Roald Dahl’s tale tells of a boy who, with a bit of wizardry, flies across the Atlantic from England to New York riding on a very large peach, towed by seagulls and accompanied by five insects who have grown as tall as he is – a spider, an earthworm, a grasshopper, a centipede and a ladybird. They’re big but friendly.

We know we are going to enjoy the trip right from the start because the set is a gem that wafts us straight into a richly enchanted picture book world dominated by the huge stone – all that remains of the peach – now being used as a house in Central Park. The adventures that carry the crew to the Big Apple are told in flashback.

And we in the audience are involved from the start, sometimes even in the action with birds swooping over us, a wild rhinoceros rampaging along the rows of seats chasing its prey and the giant peach floating and bouncing down the auditorium, helped by willing young hands on its way to America.

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Here is a cast that not only acts out the story with tremendous energy and humour but also sing with style and play instruments with more than ordinary skill. The worm (Matthew Rutherford) thumps the string bass, ladybird (Kate Adams) is on trumpet, Dale Superville’s centipede plucks a guitar with the spider (Josie Dunn) on clarinet and Pete Ashmore’s grasshopper bowing a fine violin,

Barbara Hockaday, the Central Park tour guide plays piano and accordion and James Le Lacheur is a great gawky James who, although occasionally on the verge of panic, constantly finds ways to save himself and his companions from disaster. And the audience needs to keep alert to the many verbal and visual jokes.

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I particularly like the way James’ beastly aunts are peeled off the ground after being run over by the runaway giant peach. If the kids are showing sign of summer holiday fatigue this is the show to send their spirits soaring.

David Henshall.

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