Roald Dahl has certainly served Bolton well over the years. Children love this late author's work and they have packed the Octagon to the rafters each time they have tackled a tale of his. Last year The Twits was the most successful production the theatre has ever staged.
This year, based on pre sales alone, James And The Giant Peach is set to break that record. It's a shame then that many of the children in the audience when I went seemed under whelmed by the piece. The problem is that this production does not involve you as much as the wonderful Twits.
Jon Bausor's lovely set involves the audience immediately. Your eyes are drawn to the New York skyline and the grassy verge which doubles for Central Park and James' English home. David Wood, a very fine writer, adapts the story with ease. He includes the essential ingredients; James' sudden loss of his parents, his vile aunts adopting him and a mysterious old man's gift which leads to the appearance of a giant peach.
From the moment that the fruit grows, the youngsters in the audience sit up in their chairs, completely engaged. But their excitement all so easily peters out on several occasions. The main reason is because of the sluggish pacing. Director Sarah Esdaile seems so worried about disappointing fans of the book that she forgets to inject some much needed speed to the proceedings. For example, in Act One the peach grows and there are some delightful scenes, but these are followed by a very flat moment where James describes an event, then on comes the interval. The audience seems unaware that it is ice-cream time as a result.
There are some nice touches and the kids will be far from bored throughout.
Mervyn Millar’s superb puppets certainly add something special to the play. Dahl’s humour is also intact. But despite the cast’s efforts, this story of a high flying peach just fails to take flight when it should.