James and the giant peach

Roald Dahl’s books draw us into a land full of magic and talking animals. James and the Giant Peach is no exception, he takes his friends on an adventure in a giant peach to Central Park in New York. This Christmas play sizzles with fun for the whole family – after several pitiful years in the care (if you can call it that) of his two aunts, James manages to escape and his adventure begins.

Dahl’s characterisation is excellent in James and the Giant Peach with each insect having a distinctive personality and none of this is lost in David Wood’s abridged adaptation for the stage. Special mention must be made of Patti Griffiths who organised the make-up and wigs, as well as overseeing the movement of the creatures on stage – sparkling faces abound smiling throughout and drawing the audience into James’ world. Costumes are very well developed which is not easy – how exactly does one dress insects?! Laura Johnston and Christine Fox show they are up to the task.

Samuel Masters is welcomed back to the company to play James, the main protagonist, in James and the Giant Peach. He has energy and builds a team, rallying the spirits of his friends in times of trouble. Look out for Samuel, he’s a scriptwriter and director as well as an actor.

Aunt Spiker, Frankie Knight, is glamorous and knows it but her face is warped by large purple boils – an indicator of her nasty nature. Her interaction with Sponge, acted by Phaedra Danelli, and the incessant bickering never ceases to entertain.

Neil Turk-Thompson is very convincing as Old-Green-Grasshopper. His facial expressions, including his eyebrows and movements provide endless entertainment and place him in a class of his own. He is James’ greatest champion.

James and the Giant Peach

Oliver Russell makes his debut performance at BLT as the rather arrogant centipede. Russell is a seasoned actor but new to Brighton and a good addition to the company. Ladybird acted by Ellie Mason is a lovely character.

Olivia Jeffrey is elegant as Miss Spider and Kirrily Long can be applauded for taking up the part of Earthworm late in the day. Earthworm is a very funny portent of doom who heroically saves the day when the peach is in trouble.

James and the Giant Peach runs for about two hours excluding the interval which makes it perfect for children who can still be tucked up in bed by 10pm. Rapturous applause at the end was evidence of how much the audience enjoyed the show.

It is no mean feat to have 12 actors and a complex set on a stage as small as Brighton Little Theatre. Joseph Bentley clearly had a lot of fun as director. He writes of James and the Giant Peach: “I remember the joy of childhood and the promise Dahl made to us all that anything is possible if you believe in yourself, the love you find around you the family you build, and the adventure.”

I recommend this energetic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book. The show engages, excites and entertains, it’s great fun for the whole family.

Three Stars ***