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James and the Giant Peach (tour - Chelmsford, Civic Theatre)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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I think there's something of the anarchist in all children, which is probably why the topsy-turvydom and snapping bite of those masters of mayhem Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl keep their appeal. Children have a marvellous ability to accept instantly what their elders may strain at – in the case of the current Birmingham Stage Company touring production of Dahl's James and the Giant Peach that includes rod puppetry, UV-light black theatre, a young male adult in a boy's short trousers and the death of parents in a road accident.

The adaptation is by David Wood, who provides some snappy and witty lines for the lyrics to Grant Olding's equally catchy tunes. Director Nicolai Foster keeps the action fast moving, helped by Colin Richmond's intriguingly flexible set, some effective lighting by James Whiteside and fun choreography from Drew McOnie. The eight-strong cast all play a variety of musical instruments, and do it well, as our likeable young hero James (Tom Gillies) wins the audience's sympathy for his orphaned state and non-upbringing by the nastiest pair of uglies you're likely to encounter this side of next Christmas' rash of Cinderella.

Claire Greenway is the food-obsessed Aunt Sponge and the much more pleasant and helpful Ladybird. Aunt Spiker, that would-be fashion-plate, is played by Sioned Saunders who also takes on the thread-spinning Spider. James' other allies are Iwan Tudor as the Grasshopper, Rhys Saunders as the most lugubrious of Earthworms and Chris Lindon as the Centipede (by the end of the show we all definitely know that this arthropod may be multi-footed, but there aren't 100 of them.


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