by Roald Dahl adapted by David Wood.

West Yorkshire Playhouse (Courtyard Theatre) Quarry Hill LS2 7UP To 24 January 2015.
10am 6-8, 14, 15, 20-22 Jan.
1.30pm 2, 3, 6-11, 14, 15, 17, 18, 20-24 Jan.
7pm 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 24 Jan.
Audio-described: 8 Jan 1.30pm, 23 Jan 7pm.
BSL Signed 9 Jan 7pm.
Captioned 16 Jan 7pm.
Relaxed Performances 13 Jan 11.30am & 6.30pm.
Runs 1hr 35min One interval.

TICKETS: 0113 213 7700.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 16 December.

Lively and bright-looking production that reaches the heart of the matter.
Plenty of fairy-tale horrors make it into Roald Dahl’s 1961 novel for children. Plenty of fantasy too. But with a basis in reality. When young James loses his parents to a chance street-encounter with a rhinoceros it might be a metaphor for a car accident or a murderous attack. And, as stories pour-out about children being abused, by the great and no-so-good included, the two forbidding aunts who take him in, treat him as a slave and offer no suggestion he matters as a person clearly show Dahl perceived the danger young people face from malevolent and selfish adults.

Max Webster’s production in Leeds has everything right. Unfortunate events happen without sensation. For James, too young to determine his own life, must accept what happens. Chris Lew Kum Hoi gives him a positive approach when that starts to change, without losing a childlike directness of manner and a willingness to help out.

He contrasts the relatives who take him in, Beverly Rudd all plump self-indulgence as Sponge, Jess Murphy tall and angular as Spiker – the latitude and longitude of a James-oppressing little world.

Other children may have to find escape through their imagination; Dahl’s imagination gives James escape to New York by the Giant Peach, along with a little menagerie. There can be insiders, outsiders and mockery among these animals, with their occasionally querulous relations. Yet nothing like the self-congratulatory sadism of the human aunts. He finds a substitute family where his ideas count.

Serious points resonate with various childhood experiences. But Webster ensures the play, in David Wood’s established stage version, is also lively fun. Spider and Sponge may terrify James, but audiences can laugh at them. The animals provide gentler comedy with their characteristic manners and movements, while the device of securing the Peach to multiple birds so it can fly away makes for a triumphant moment.

This Peach also feeds its passengers as they float safely to land. For added zest it’s replicated in a bouncy plastic version the audience can keep bouncing around over their heads. Perhaps there should be a new panto-cry: ‘It’s above you!’

Glowworm: James Gow.
James: Chris Lew Kum Hoi.
Earthworm/Reporter: Dyfrig Morris.
Aunt Spiker/Spider: Jess Murphy.
Grasshopper/Old Man: Robert Pickavance.
Aunt Sponge/Ladybird: Beverly Rudd.
Centipede: Paksie Vernon.

Director: Max Webster.
Designer: Fly Davis.
Lighting: David Holmes.
Sound: Peter Rice.
Composer/Musical Director: Adam Pleeth.
Movement: Josie Daxter.
Assistant director: Tyrrell Jones.

2015-01-02 16:06:27

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