When having the opportunity to become immersed in a Roald Dahl tale, whether you are an adult or a child, the characters and the stories have the power to transport you to a different world that punishes adults and empowers quirky kids. David Woods’s adaptation of James and the Giant Peach is an energetic, whacky and mesmerising world of wonder for children and adults alike.
The ensemble of talented actors are energetic, focused and solid in keeping an audience of children engaged for 90 minutes, which is an impressive feat. The cast consists of James (Nathan Guy), Centipede (Clive Duncan), Miss Spider (Ebony Feare), Grasshopper (Jonathan Kemp), Earthworm (Lane Paul Stewart) and Miss Ladybird (Rebecca Yeo). The ensemble chops and changes as characters that James encounters throughout his adventures, from rhinos to sailors. With sharp changes and clever use of props, the smooth transformation of characters is engaging and impressive, encouraging the audience to use their imagination no matter how big or small they are. The scene that most resonated with me was when the centipede and James fell into the sea. Umbrellas become jellyfish and, through clever lighting and shiny objects, the audience are transported to the depths of the sea floor along with the characters, feeling truly immersed in the story being told.
The set is adaptable, impressive and captivating, ever-changing throughout the life and growth of the peach. It allows the audience to see many different angles and insights into the peach, along with understanding the predicaments that James and his friends are up against. Whether it is inside the stone, on top of the peach in a quest for some seagulls or even devouring the flesh, it feels like we are sharing in the adventure by getting up close and personal with the peach. The paper mache constructions of the peach that are used in depicting its journey at different points of the production keep the performance ever-changing and the audience engaged. Without a doubt, the inflatable peach that is passed around the audience is extremely well-received – the kid inside me jumped up to give it a push!
The musical element of the production is endearing and intriguing; the mix of live and recorded music comes across as a little disjointed. The rigid and restrictive element of the recorded backing tracks appears to leave the actors feeling a little under pressure and causes them to miss their cues at times, or anticipate where they need to come in. Towards the end of the second half the centipede began to start his song before his cue and, although he covered it up marvelously, it threw off the rest of his performance in the song. While the recorded tracks appear to be too rigid, at times the ladles and ad hoc percussion feel inadequate for the rest of the production. The chorus work however is impeccable and enchanting and such a key part of James’s tale, and the tunes were floating around in my head for hours after.
I thoroughly enjoyed the production and I was in awe by how easily my inner child began to burst out singing in unison and getting involved with the audience participation elements. Children’s theatre is demanding and challenging when it comes to keeping the attention and interest of the children and the adults alike, which is accomplished in this production. Polka Theatre is a welcoming and inviting theatre and this production is full of energy and passion, which each and every person becomes a part of once they walk through the doors. I would definitely advise a trip down to Wimbledon; whether you are thirty or three, you will enjoy this magical production.
James and the Giant Peach is playing at the Polka Theatre until 14 August and is aimed at ages 5 – 7. For more information and tickets, see the Polka Theatre website.