James and the Giant Peach

The fantastical, magical stories created by Roald Dahl have proven themselves to have the potential to inspire family shows that enthral rather than patronise with the award-winning Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda still running in the West End. Without the budget or scale to match these, Sell A Door's new touring production of James and the Giant Peach still manages to bring to life a wonderful world of adventures and characters with a dynamic energy that will amaze, amuse and excite any child (and many parents too).

The delight and awe on the faces of the children at this performance is a clear indicator of the magic that Sell A Door have created

As with many of Dahl's tales, this is a story of a child who flourishes in the face of adversity – giving a lovely message to young ones that no matter how hard life may seem, better times, better people and better journeys can always be found ahead of you. That if you do good things, then the richnesses of life's offerings are there for your taking. Having been orphaned after his parents were killed in a freak rhinoceros accident (bizarre enough not to scare), James Trotter (a boyishly positive and lovable performance by Ewan Goddard) is sent to live with his evil Aunts Sponge and Spiker (the hilariously, spluttering Ugly Sister style double act of Grace Bishop and Max Gallagher). Treated like a slave but never really grumbling, he just misses the small things that every child should have – friends to play with, trees to climb and picnics on trips to the beach.

After years of doing their chores and keeping a smile on his face, all that suddenly changes when a mysterious stranger appears and gives him a bag of the most magical ingredients that promise to produce, as he sings, “Marvellous Things” ahead. When James accidentally spills it near the old peach tree, he is transported into a world of larger-than-life creatures in a larger-than-life peach where he is treated as a hero and goes on the adventure of his life. As indeed do we.

The cast all strike the right balance of creating cartoonesque characters that have easily recognisable individual traits (and a diverse range of accents) which children can grab onto but that also manage to somehow feel real. From Paul Critoph's slow-moving, depressed Earthworm to Nichole Bird's rather sexy (but more sisterly) French Miss Spider and James Dangerfield's stalwart voice of reason and positivity Old-Green-Grasshopper, they all shine as individual embodiments of the bizarre with their strong movement and speaking patterns – and work together to become an even stronger ensemble.

The magic is created in the most simple yet effective ways with all the cast seamlessly being part of scene shifts and setting creation as the action takes place. Aside from the marvelous inflatable peach on a rotating stage so we can see both inside and out – and I for one really wanted to jump onto, like the welcomingly comfortable bouncy castle it seems – they take us under the sea, high up into the sky and across to America with the action never stopping and the believability never waning. The energy keeps apace through all this with sharks on ‘heelies’, giant flapping birds on poles, shadow puppetry, a giant floating blanket to create the waves (which little ones in the front row can't stop themselves grabbing) and – my personal favourite – simple, well-positioned torchlight and a ladder (and very clever movement) to take us inside the peach along with James.

Throughout, the action is punctuated by catchy little rhyming songs that are jolly enough to singalong to but performed with beautiful harmonies so as not to be too ‘pre-school’. With so much going on in so many varied ways, it's impossible to get bored – the company really seem to have found endless, unique magical tricks to bring things to life so it never becomes a lazy or patronising children’s show. Their energy and enjoyment abounds and carries us through the sky, sharing with their excitement. Occasionally this energy – and the strong accents in play – can lead to a few words being hurried and lost, but if that's the small price of maintaining such pace, then it's easily forgivable.

As this show isn't primarily aimed at me (being slightly passed my youth), it's always worth watching, and listening to, the younger members of the audience to gauge reaction. And the delight and awe on the faces of the children at this performance – as well as their ability to remain (mainly) quiet and transfixed for the 90 minutes – is a clear indicator of the magic that Sell A Door have created. If there's no more honest criticism than what you hear from the mouth of a child, then hearing the words of one leaving, beaming excitedly and saying “I thought it was even better than the book and I LOVE the book. It's probably the best musical I've ever seen” says more about the show than I ever could. This truly is a marvellous production of wondrously marvellous things. And I still want to sit on the giant peach myself some day.

Reviews by Simon Smith

Dorfman Theatre

Home, I'm Darling

★★
Olivier Theatre

Exit the King

Royal Court Theatre

Pity

★★
National Theatre

The Lehman Trilogy

★★★★★
Lyttelton Theatre

Julie

★★★★
Olivier Theatre

Translations

★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

Roald Dahl’s classic tale follows the adventurous, young James and his friends – Miss Spider, Old-Green-Grasshopper, Centipede, Ladybird and Earthworm. Beginning at the end of the story, like all great tales do, James and his friends are living in the giant peach stone in Central Park, New York, but the real story lies in how they got there, all the way from the White Cliffs of Dover.

Orphan James Henry Trotter was sent to live with his evil aunts, Spiker and Sponge, after his parents were killed in a tragic rhinoceros accident. Just when James thinks he will never be allowed to have fun again he meets an old man who gives him a bag containing the ingredients for the strongest magic potion in the world. When James accidentally spills it near the old peach tree in his aunts' garden the most marvelous things start to happen and he begins the greatest adventure of his life.

Join James and his new found insect friends on their extraordinary journey fraught with enemies, dangers and excitement, which will take them halfway around the world in a giant peach full of friends, music and laughter.