JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
Made in Colchester at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
Trina Bramman's beautifully realised set has the giant peach stone at its core, and around it the Big Apple, suggested by trees made of lamp posts and street signs. Television screens are put out with the rubbish; an accordion lies waiting by the trash-can.
The classic Roald Dahl story is brought to vibrant life in Matthew Cullum's production for Made in Colchester, following the growing trend for children's shows at the height of summer. Bright orange t-shirts for the front of house, merchandise including butterfly wands, and in the programme, entomological notes and a scrummy recipe for Mississippi Magic Peach Cobbler.
Seven actor/musicians play all the parts, introduced by Barbara Hockaday's enthusiastic tour guide. James Le Lacheur makes a gangly, nerdy James, knobbly knees and woolly hat. The insect inhabitants of the Central Park house are Kate Adams' ladybird [trumpet], Pete Ashmore's grasshopper [violin], Josie Dunn's scary Miss Spider – best dressed of the insects – [clarinet], Matthew Rutherford's gloomy earthworm [bass] and Dale Superville's centipede, tiny shoes suspended from his coat [guitar]. The two last also play the grotesque Aunts, Sponge and Spiker.
The music [MD Richard Reeday] is sophisticated – Dale's food number a highlight, together with the mournful euphonium solo.
And the two hour show is full of bright ideas – puppetry [tiny versions of the characters to give a sense of place and scale, a voracious seagull], vox pops and reportage beamed to those same trash tvs, an underwater ballet, a duel with pots and pans [the ladybird on sound effects duty], a huge sail for the sea, umbrellas for sharks, a mirror ball storm. The story ends with a ticker-tape welcome to New York, after the audience has helped James to save the day once more by blowing the air-borne peach to a safe landing.
“Wow!” said the small child in the row behind as James's parents were eaten by a rampaging rhino. “What happened ?” was a frequent question, as well as “When can I go inside [the giant peach stone] ?”. Not possible, alas, although the children are invited down after the curtain call to inspect that splendid set at close quarters.
Not as noisily in-your-face as a panto, the show may be a little too complicated for the tinier members of the audience, especially if they're unfamiliar with the original 1961 novel. But Dahl's winning blend of magic, macabre and fantasy is well served in David Wood's inventive adaptation – an ideal treat for an August afternoon.
production photograph by Robert Day