West Yorkshire Playhouse brings Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel James and the Giant Peach to stage this season.
James is an orphan living with his two acerbic aunts when a mysterious old man offers a bag of seeds which promise James amazing opportunities. When the seeds are spilt in the grounds of his home, a peach tree bears fruit the size of a house. Within the peach live similarly oversized insects who quickly become James’ friends on an odyssey across the Atlantic through sea and air.
Roald Dahl’s fiction has been adapted successfully into film, television and radio for over forty years. His stories are rightly regarded as some of the finest children’s fiction, bearing some of the most memorable literary creations of the Twentieth Century. James and the Giant Peach is one of Dahl’s earliest forays into children’s storytelling, and whilst simple and fantastical, it displays the author’s dark humour and sardonic wit which draws universal appeal amongst adults and children.
The West Yorkshire Playhouse’s adaptation is bold and adventurous, stemming from artistic director James Brining’s desire to see James and the Giant Peach realised in a theatrical form. There has been a great investment in show’s presentation, evidenced through an imaginative staging of the peach and its homely interior. Audiences will undoubtedly be enthralled at how the peach is manifested and shared with the audiences through numerous interpretations and gags with scale.
A host of animal characters also provide James and the Giant Peach with something of a pantomime flavour. Gloworms, Spiders and Grasshoppers are delicately humanized into a busking band which are wholly humanoid, yet portrayed with a rich texture and reality which fully convinces. Dyfrig Morris’ doubtful Earthworm is a particular comedy relief for older audiences, played with a wonderfully lugubrious Welsh accent. In terms of the human contingent, James is provided with an adventurous innocence by Chris Lew Kum Hoi whilst Aunts Spiker and Sponge are stylishly realised with a sinister relish by Jess Murphy and Beverly Rudd.
Director Max Webster has worked closely with Designer Fly Davis to present a world which is deeply rooted in the sunburst oranges and beiges of the Sixties. With an evocative floral patterning and the addition of cardboard dressings, there is a reinforced playtime feel to the show, perhaps referencing a bygone era where imagination and literature were the mainstays of a childhood adventures. It was certainly an opinion which Dahl often extolled in his writing against television media and is perhaps a view which the producers also share.
A world of wonder and a flight of fancy, James and the Giant Peach is an imaginative adaptation of a heart-warming story. At its heart it shares adventure and the importance of family, in whatever shape or form that may take. Darkly comical yet uplifting and enchantingly bizarre, it is a play which succeeds in creating a shared experience which is fun and fantastical. Evocative and stylishly staged, James and the Giant Peach is proudly authentic to its source material and carries with it all the magic an audience will expect.