James and the Giant Peach

By Roald Dahl, adapted by David Wood
A Royal and Derngate Production
Royal Theatre, Northampton

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The most disappointing aspect of James and The Giant Peach at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton was the audience, or the lack of it. Granted, this was the penultimate evening performance, but it frustrates me when good theatre, good children's theatre at that, is so under supported. Why are parents so willing to spend hundreds of pounds on games consoles, but unable to find the money to give their offspring a colourful, imaginative theatrical experience?

Once again, Dani Parr has created a magical and lively performance. As associate director at the Royal and Derngate she has overseen some excellent work and I wonder how long it will be before she moves on to bigger ventures.

The play itself, James and the Giant Peach, adapted by Roald Dahl expert David Wood, managed to achieve that fine mix of laughter for both children and adults. The strength is in the original story and the adaptation is faithful to this, laying the foundations for the performance.

The multi-talented, multi-tasked company of six energetically re-told the story, playing instruments and singing to add another dimension to the show. Their acting was at times larger than life, a little pantomimic if you like, though it suited this play.

William Finkenrath as the Earthworm was very effective, physically sliding around the stage and really grasping the character suggested in the original book. Though the other insects had their moments, they did not reach these heights and their performance lacked Earthworm's 'character'.

The decision to set Dahl's comic poems to music was an interesting one and overall worked very well. However, there were some songs that seemed to miss the point - 'Marvelous Things', for example, lacked the magic suggested through the rest of the play.

However, 'the magic' makes this performance work. Beautiful, visual moments - James entering the Peach and the Seagulls lifting the heroes into the air were simple but cleverly executed scenes. The fantastic insect costumes and set design by Ben Stones added to the atmosphere.

A performance that does not patronise children, or forget about adults, James and his Giant Peach was a delight to witness. A visual piece of theatre that tells the story in images as well as music and the fantastic, original text.

With its larger than life characters, perhaps this is a pantomime for the summer on offer for the inhabitants of Northamptonshire. I only hope that those inhabitants do not allow theatre of this quality to pass them by.

"James and The Giant Peach" played at the Royal and Derngate Theatre, Northampton until Saturday 28th June 2008.

Reviewer: John Johnson

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