When poor James Henry Trotter loses his parents in a horrible rhinoceros accident, he is forced to live with his two wicked aunts, Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. After three years he becomes “the saddest and loneliest boy you could find”. Then one day, a wizened old man in a dark-green suit gives James a bag of magic green things that promise to reverse his misery forever.
When James accidentally spills the things on his aunts’ withered peach tree, he sets the adventure in motion. From the old tree a single peach grows, and grows, and grows some more, until finally James climbs inside the giant fruit and rolls away from his despicable aunts to a whole new life. James befriends an assortment of hilarious characters, including Grasshopper, Earthworm, Miss Spider and Centipede–each with his or her own song to sing
As this was one of my favourite Roald Dahl stories growing up (and regular readers will know that I have a definite soft spot for Mr Dahl’s writing), I was a touch apprehensive heading in.
The children’s novel was written in the 1960’s. Dahl – never one to underestimate his audience – made the story dark and – frankly – gruesome in places. It’s tragic and horrible but there is also an element of humour in every terrible thing that happens to James. I worried that this adaption might try to gloss over the tragedy and scares out of a (misguided) desire to protect younger minds. Once again the West Yorkshire Playhouse exceeded my expectations greatly. It’s all here – the raging rhinoceros; snarling sharks; repulsive relatives – every challenge that poor James encounters in the book is depicted inventively. As are the triumphs.
Throughout there is a wonderfully inventive use of props. The rhinoceros and sharks were just terrific. Indeed, I’ll never look at a garden saw the same way again! The highlight – obviously – has to be the Peach itself. Watching it grow was delightful. Not to spoil, but helping the Peach on it’s journey was just tons of FUN (I was gutted it never actually came our way) – as one might expect for a show targeted at youngsters, there was an element of audience participation. Just enough to satisfy, not enough to derail the momentum of the show. Seeing the Peach as a vehicle for justice with regards to squishing the awful aunts was whoop inducing. My personal favourite effects though were the wriggingly, squiggiling, magical green things. The show utilised a really clever and enchanting way of bringing these to life!
Naturally the most important element of the show are the characters depicted. The painfully talented cast – every one sings, dances and plays a musical instrument – depict more that one character onstage. Beverly Rudd and Jess Murphy are just fantastic as the repugnant Aunts Sponge and Spider and utterly different as the chatty Ladybird and sensitive Spider. Robert Pickavance was delightfully bouncy and squirmy as the music loving Grasshopper. However it was Dyfrig Morris as the dry and sardonic Earthworm that won this viewers heart, particularly in his interactions with James and with the vain yet adorable Centipede, played by Parsie Vernon.
Unsurprisingly, the play as a whole hinges on Chris Lew Kum Hoi – if James had been anything less than a sympathetic and engaging narrator; everything would have fallen apart. However, Chris was a compelling presence – he played every scene with honesty, bringing the audience with him each step of the way. His anguish and pain in the early stages are particularly well realised. There is a genuine poignancy tied in with his interactions with the pair that portray his parents in later scenes. But ultimately it is his desire for joy, happiness and a sense of belonging and family that is wonderful to behold.
Throughout the play there is music, singing and dancing – primarily led by James Gow – a multi-talented multi-instrumentalist. While it was a treat to see the music being performed onstage, I actually didn’t realise that he was also portraying an enlarged insect – a Glowworm until after the production. Perhaps I missed his introduction during the related song? My ignorance made his occasional interactions with the rest of the group a little odd…but that is a tiny complaint in an otherwise lovely show.
This is a treat for all the family and – for the literary nuts out there – a truly wonderful adaptation of a wonderful book. I’d heartily recommend it!
Watch the trailer here!
Roald Dahl is famous for his stories and rhymes, but much less well known is how often he went out of his way to help seriously ill children. Today Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Children’s Charity helps children with the severest conditions and the greatest needs. The charity believes every child can have a more marvellous life, no matter how ill they are, or how short their life may be.
Find out more HERE
James and the Giant Peach at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
Buy tickets HERE