I have been an avid reader and fan of Roald Dahl’s works since early childhood, and ‘James and the Giant Peach’ is certainly one of my favourites – so I was really interested to see how it would be interpreted onstage. It was in good hands – the Birmingham Stage Company have adapted the most number of Roald Dahl tales and have a strong association with literary collaborations.
Safe to say, the performance of ‘James and the Giant Peach’ was an absolute delight. Exploring the nature of storytelling though song, sound, puppetry, costume and movement, the Birmingham Stage Company retain the sense of fun and adventure inherent in Roald Dahl’s books. It is bright, colourful, cheery; and retains the rustic and at times comical feel of Quentin Blake’s original illustrations. The piece is performed onstage with open wings: there are no wing curtains, performers swap instruments with no conceit, and if you cared to you can peer across and view rails of costumes and tables of props. The BSC really embrace the physicality and immediacy of theatre as a medium for storytelling, and bring all elements of performance together onstage to entertain and captivate their audience: Aunts Spiker and Sponge were played by women but presented as pantomime dames, a cacophony of wickedness that the children delighted in; and the various ways in which the peach was displayed – in forms growing, moving, enormous and small – is at times witty, at others amusing; but always interesting and apt. All the musical accompaniment was done live onstage, and the instrumentation as well as choice of instrument was also made very much past of the story and of the characters. (I laughed when I saw that the arrogant Centipede was the guitarist.)
The audience were mostly made up of school children under 10 years old, but I wouldn’t say that this is a ‘children’s play’ or specifically ‘children’s theatre’ – anyone who has ever enjoyed one of Roald Dahl’s books will be sure to enjoy seeing this performance.
I caught the show the end of an opening residency at the Old Rep and on the brink of departing for the UK tour – so I really urge you to check their website for the tour dates, and do your best to catch it when it arrives at a theatre near you! (Bringing a child along is strictly optional!)