James and the Giant Peach

Review by Jenna Lambie Ridgway
A Polka Theatre Production
Reviewed at Polka Theatre
27th May – 14th August
For ages 4-11

Hats off to the Polka Theatre and its ambitious production of the Roald Dahl classic, James and the Giant Peach. Creative staging, clever casting and just enough audience participation happily come together in a show that’s very true to the book. The pacing of this production keeps the narrative moving steadily along without bombarding its audience with overstimulation and cheap tricks. The slapstick moments have time to let the laughs soak in and the visual imagery isn’t crowded with gimmicks. Bravo.

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Old Grasshopper, played by Jonathan Kemp, is a particular joy to behold on stage. His rich voice carries even more than the violin, banjo and flute he effortlessly plays throughout the show. He anchors this production alongside a wonderful portrayal of James by Nathan Guy and the grumpy but loveable Earthworm by Lane Paul Stewart.

And that peach; that magnificent peach literally takes centre stage when it’s finally revealed in all its grandeur. The ocean scenes in particular show off the peach spectacularly and give you a real sense of its vastness – no mean feat in a mid-sized theatre.

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A few transitions ‘between peaches’ could use a little fine-tuning and for younger children I highly advise preparing them for the grim details of James’ early life. Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge are properly nasty in a way that’s much more in your face on stage than in a book. When wide-eyed innocent James first arrives at their house they set the tone by immediately chopping the head off his teddy bear. Cue audible gasps from the audience though probably more from parents than children to be fair. The prominence and detail given to the demise of James’ parents seems unnecessary to me. Even Dahl kept it short and I think the audience might have benefitted from the same in this stage production. And the staging of New York in the second act was a little disappointing for a city with so much visual richness – maybe a ticker-tape parade falling on the audience next time?

Overall this is a hugely successful production full of adventure, lively characters, some nastiness at the start and a truly magnificent peach at the heart of it all.

Jenna is a writer, freelance arts manager and fundraiser. You can read more on her blog www.mrsbrownsbooks.blogspot.co.uk. Follow Jenna @mrsbrownsbooks

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