Watermill - James and the Giant Peach
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Watermill - James and the Giant Peach

26th November 2009 to 3rd January 2010.

Review from the Newbury Weekly News.

Refreshingly simple

Dahl's wonderful prose finds space in The Watermill's James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach, at The Watermill, until Sunday, January 3

A simple stage set, a small cast of actor-musicians, and unfussy but effective props and costumes meant that this production of Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach gave the author's wonderful prose the space to be enjoyed, and was the perfect introduction for young theatre-goers to The Watermill's way of working.

The adventures of the lively, ingenious seven-year-old James and his friends, a group of oversized and anthropomorphic bugs, were unfettered as their home, the titular peach - expanded by the same magical "marvellous things" accidentally digested by the insects - bounced away from the prison of James' childhood home, to travel by earth, sea and air, taking them to a bright future in New York.

Unbowed by years under the horrendous parentage of his aunts Spiker and Sponge - possibly the cruellest relatives in children's literature, despite stiff competition -James encouraged the fatherly Old-Green-Grasshopper, vain Centipede, the glamorous Miss Spider and Ladybird, and cynical Brummie Earthworm to use their individual talents to escape from a number of sticky situations, such as harnessing seagulls with spider thread to lift the peach away from circling sharks.

With much of the action taking place inside an aptly nautical-looking peach stone, it was Dahl's words (adapted for stage by David Wood), along with the physicality and musicality of the cast that bought the external dramas to life, while the peach ripening on the branch was depicted through a series of unfolding parasols.

Composer Simon Slater's songs and music integrated well into the story and allowed it to bounce along as merrily as the peach on its thrilling journey from tree to sea.

Just as the audience might have felt that the only thing missing was the 'ooh' factor, James' underwater rescue of Centipede resulted in an encounter with a giant inflatable octopus which emitted not only 'oohs' but a spontaneous round of applause from the audience - followed by another when the battle to contain it back under the stage resulted in more of a struggle for cast members than expected.

It may be proper theatre, but a short running time and pacy storyline mean that all but the tiniest of tinies should remain enthralled throughout - the four-plus age guideline and no under-threes rule is probably about right.

However, for primary-aged children upwards, James & the Giant Peach is a refreshing and zesty antidote to all those overripe and bloated pantomimes.

CATRIONA REEVES AND GEORGE AINSWORTH