Pros: Creative use of space, colourful and clever props and designs, and a strong ensemble of multi-talented actors.
Cons: Although the characters are strongly developed, I wished for more animal-like physicality in their portrayals.
An afternoon at the Polka Theatre was just like being a kid again. This colourful and wonder-filled venue offers two theatre spaces, a cafe, toys to play with, books to read and even an outdoor playground! If you live near to or fancy taking the journey out to Wimbledon, it’s an ideal location for a fun family outing. It’s also where I had the pleasure of seeing David Wood’s adaptation of James and the Giant Peach.
Based upon Roald Dahl’s original tale, we begin the story by meeting James and his friends outside the peach stone where they live in Central Park in New York City. We find out a little bit about what each character is up to after their famous adventure with the peach, and then James offers to tell us the story. We are then transported back to the beginning, learning what has happened to James, meeting cruel Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, and finding out all about how the glorious giant peach came to be. Following the adventures of James, Miss Spider, Miss LadyBird, Centipede, Earthworm and Old Grasshopper, we see how peach conquers different earthly obstacles and even makes its way across the sea, all in a delightful 1 hour and 45 minutes, including an interval.
The enormous talent in the cast makes this story fun to watch and easy to enjoy. Each actor brings a unique gift to their larger than life characters that instantly grabs the focus of the audience. Nathan Guy wins our hearts as our adventurous protagonist, James. Rebecca Yeo brings a stylish flair to Miss LadyBird and gets us psyched for the story as the Tour Guide. Lane Paul Stewart catches us by surprise as the Earthworm and intrigues us as the Old Man. Clive Duncan tells story through song as Centipede and makes us roll with laughter as silly Aunt Sponge. Ebony Feare dazzles around the stage as Miss Spider and scares us as Aunt Spiker. And Jonathan Kemp brings a light-hearted demeanour and his musical prowess to Old Grasshopper, playing several instruments to accompany the story. I was very impressed with the ensemble as a whole, but did wish for more animal-like physicality within their characters and movements across the space.
Wood’s adaptation offers copious moments of magic and interaction for the audience, making the piece accessible to its young audience and keeping them on the edge of their seats. Roman Stefanski’s direction allows the actors to discover moments of humour with the audience and to just have fun with their outrageous characters. The play contains original music by Olly Fox that is enjoyable, but at times unclear it’s as to whether it is meant to be sung or spoken rhythmically. Brilliantly crafted, coloured props of all shapes and sizes designed by Keith Baker enable these special moments where young audience members get a chance to help tell the story. One in particular entailed James asking the audience for help pushing the peach, a giant inflatable ball shaped and painted as a peach, up the ‘hill’ through the upward slope of the audience. Witnessing the interactions of the children with these moments and their responses to the characters was just as much fun as the show itself! Whether this moment is attributed to Wood’s writing, Stefanski’s direction or just Dahl’s loveable story is uncertain, but it is glorious just the same.
Needless to say, this production is an afternoon of fun for the whole family. James and the Giant Peach entertains with music, audience interaction and lots of laughs, and is sure to leave your heart warmed.
Original Author: Roald Dahl
Adapted by: David Wood
Director: Roman Stefanski
Composer and Musical Director: Olly Fox
Producer: Polka Theatre
Box Office: 020 8543 4888
Booking Link: http://polkatheatre.com/whats-on/james-and-the-giant-peach
Booking Until: 14 August 2016