A giant of a show for youngsters

 

James and the Giant Peach

Belgrade Theatre

****

I WISH I were six again – well, only for the purposes of enjoying this magical, dynamic, inventive and totally riveting Birmingham Stage Company's production of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach.

The old theatre adage about ‘suspension of disbelief' just doesn't hold – it just IS magic.

You might know the story, have maybe read it fifteen thousand times to your children, as have I, but it bears retelling.

Tom Gillies plays the young James whose parents die in a freak accident with an escaped Rhinoceros and he is sent to cruel aunts (Roald Dahl does hideous adults so well). Aunt Sponge (Claire Greenway) and Aunt Spiker.(Giovanna Ryan) are dead ringers for the ugly sisters and, true to form, James has to work long hours scrubbing the kitchen … until a man – actually a wonderful puppet - appears with some magic beans that make enormous things happen.

He accidentally loses them but the garden fauna – a worm (Rhys Saunders), a spider (Sioned Saunders), a ladybird (Claire Greenway), a centipede (Chris Lindon), a  grasshopper (Iwan Tudor) find  eat them. One lands in the peach tree. The enormous consequences are obvious and Aunts Spiker and Sponge charge exorbitant fees for people to see the giant peach.

The section of Brian (Oliver Lynes) and camera operator (Giovanna Ryan) from the BBC is pure genius – and there are many such touches.

 James lives in the peach with the enormous insects, all good and versatile musicians, until it breaks lose from its moorings and heads across the Atlantic (propelled by seagulls, pursued by sharks, threatened by aircraft) for New York to land on the spike of the Empire State Building.

What I loved about this production was the transparency of the magic. I was intrigued to see how the peach was going to grow – but that was tackled so simply and credibly. Apart from some dry ice when things really needing concealing, the wings are exposed behind the proscenium arch created on stage for the show. I enjoyed the use of the puppets to tell the story. This is a wonderful production that all the family can enjoy but for your roundabout sixes, this is a real treat. Adapted David Wood and directed by  Nikolai Foster the peach grows until Jun 15.

Jane Howard 

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