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Progress Theatre - James and the Giant Peach

29th December 2005 to 7th January 2006.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

That's one peachy production

James and the Giant Peach, at Progress Theatre, Reading, from Thursday, December 29 to Saturday, January 7

Anyone familiar with Roald Dahl's stories knows that, like the Brothers Grimm, he pulls no punches in setting the scene for his hero's adventures and James and the Giant Peach is no exception.

Within minutes of the opening of this adaptation for the stage by David Wood, James loses his parents to a charging rhinoceros in Regent Street -all over in 35 seconds - and is whisked away to live with his cruel Aunts Sponge and Spiker, played with relish by Ali Carroll and Georgina Holt.

James Mould made a delightful and spirited James, who spends three miserable years before meeting a mysterious man (Israel Onoriode) who gives him a bag of magic 'green things' which he drops, spilling the contents into the ground near a tree in his garden. Next day a peach appears on the tree, growing larger and larger.

One night James discovers a secret way into the giant peach and crawls through to the centre, and this is where his adventures begin.

He meets five insect friends, the musical and sensible grasshopper (Kerry Murdock) the languid, sensuous spider (Ashleigh Skeats) the delightfully scatty and enthusiastic ladybird (Anne-Marie Piazza), the lugubrious earthworm (Liz Carroll) and centipede (Joseph Sung) who prizes his 100 boots (though as the earthworm keeps pointing out, he really only needs 42).

These were excellent performances, each portraying the nature of the insects in their mannerisms and vocal range.

We were transported, with the peach, to the Empire State Building, via the bottom of the ocean and the skies above by means of a clever combination of video and traditional staging methods. The children in the audience particularly enjoyed the sharks.

This production enabled many younger members of Progress to tread the boards, some for the first time, and their ability shows that Progress Theatre is set fair for the future.

The first half of the show was a little slow but once James united with his insect friends the pace increased and the production really took off. Congratulations to director Christine Mora and artistic director Aidan Moran for combining traditional and modern methods in bringing to life this delightful children's tale.