There’s no disputing that Roald Dahl has written some absolutely brilliant children’s books, bringing to life fantastic adventures that children and adults alike can indulge in. It’s been over fifty years since his second children’s book James and the Giant Peach was published, and the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, has brought that story to life in the form of a fun, sharp and energetic stage play directed by Max Webster.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, James and the Giant Peach follows the story of a little boy who gets sent away to live with his evil aunts Sponge and Spiker after his parents are killed. They’re cruel to him, putting him to work from the moment he arrives, and it isn’t long before poor James is left feeling isolated, downtrodden and hopeless. However, one day, a mysterious old man gives him some green crocodile tongues and instructs him to make a potion out of them. He tells him that the potion will bring him immense happiness after drinking it, but on the way back, James trips up and pours the potion onto an old peach tree that’s never given the aunts a single fruit. Overnight, a giant peach sprouts from the tree and grows to the size of the house, and James and the aunts can’t believe it. The aunts, as slimy and devious as they are, soon think of a plan to charge people to come and see the peach, while locking James away from all the fun as usual. One night, James is tasked with cleaning up the rubbish in the garden, and sees an opportunity to clamber inside the giant fruit. Once inside, he meets and befriends a group of life-size insects who tell him they’re about to embark on the journey of a lifetime – and that they’re taking him with them.
What follows is a brilliant, well-executed piece of theatre that demonstrates just how attentive the creative team behind the show have been during its creation. The characters are all excellently portrayed, with the company working well as an ensemble and shifting between a variety of different roles. The set is also beautifully designed, with backdrops and frames of fiery orange garnishing a rather simplistic stage setting, which is adorned with a few pieces of furniture that give the space a real sense of character.
Lately in my reviews, I’ve started talking a lot more about the scenography in productions: the ways in which the set design, lighting and other production values come together to form the substance and overall personality of a show. I mention this because James and the Giant Peach is an awesome exercise in seeing how important the scenography of a production really is, and this is one show that gets it right. The production elements all come crashing together to make the whole piece fresh and engaging to watch.
What really stands out for me, though, is just how magical this production is; while the Playhouse’s brilliant production of White Christmas is magical, it isn’t quite the same sort of magic you find here in James and the Giant Peach. It’s little touches like a giant inflatable peach being thrown into the audience that really involve you in the show, with a sea of hands accompanied by rapturous gasps of excitement being generated as a result.
James and the Giant Peach is a brilliant, enjoyable show that’s magical from start to finish. It ticks plenty of boxes in terms of being a cracking piece of theatre that excites pretty much everyone, including adults and children!
James and the Giant Peach is at the West Yorkshire Playhouse until 24 January 2015. For more information and tickets, visit the West Yorkshire Playhouse website.