JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
by Roald Dahl adapted by David Wood music by Simon Slater.
Watermill Theatre (West Berkshire Playhouse) To 3 January 2010.
Mon-Sat (also Sunday 3 Jan).
Runs 1hr 30min One interval.
TICKETS: 01635 46044 .
Review: Mark Courtice 30 November 2009.
Cliché free fun.
In the programme for this year’s Christmas show the Watermill justifiably celebrate the three national awards the theatre’s won this year. This classy production, for 4+, offers some clues as to why they’re is so successful.
His parents having been eaten by a rhinoceros (wittily created with two umbrellas and coats), James escapes his horrible aunts and after an adventurous journey finds happiness with new insect friends. This is a brisk hour and a half of superior story-telling, musical mastery and good-humoured engagement with a young audience.
Dahl didn’t patronise his young readers and David Wood’s stage version doesn’t either. It trusts the young to understand emotion, and a fairly straightforward plot. Anna Linstrum’s production does her audience the compliment of assuming they will get some clever and sophisticated stage craft too, and this confidence is repaid in spades as children gasp with real engagement at the twists of the plot, and with real pleasure at the images created on stage.
Helen Goddard’s set is a sensitive response to the Watermill stage, creating the inside of the peach stone, enveloping a fantasy world. As we enter the theatre a set of painted boards with traps, hatches and ladders, hung with musical instruments promises all sorts of possibilities, which are delivered with wit and charm. Costumes (for a fantasy about magically human insects) are beautifully designed and made.
The performers are excellent, acting with brio, while playing instruments and singing to invest Simon Slater’s engaging and cleverly arranged music with energy and commitment. From Robert Maskell’s marvellously lugubrious Earthworm to Tomm Coles and Loveday Smith as the relentlessly evil aunts, the characters are interesting and satisfyingly rounded.
A lot of the elements of the traditional panto appear in this piece, including cross-dressing, wicked stepmothers, and an undersea adventure. In this cliché-free production each is invested with new ideas and energy, and in the case of the latter a huge coup de théatre.
Sensitive, creative, lighting by Ace McCarron makes the most of the space, and opens up imaginary worlds of sky and sea that add to the enchantment.
Aunt Spiker/Centipede: Tomm Coles.
Miss Spider: Michelle Long.
Old-Green-Grasshopper: William Oxborrow.
Aunt Sponge/Ladybird: Loveday Smith.
Earthworm: Robert Maskell.
James: Nadim Naaman.
Director: Anna Linstrum.
Designer: Helen Goddard.
Music/Musical Director: Simon Slater.