James and the Giant Peach (tour - Westcliff)
Palace Theatre, Westcliff
There's an anarchist close to the surface of any child, I think.
That's probably why Roald Dahl's stories are so popular; they accept that nasty things can happen to good people and that adults have fairly full control over the youngsters in their charge – but also that sometimes magical things can occur and that child can just occasionally come out of it all as the winner.
In James and the Giant Peach the eponymous lad loses his parents to a rhinoceros at the London Zoo and is subsequently farmed out to a brace of aunts who, quite frankly, make Cinderella's stepsisters look like a pair of softies. But he meets an old man who gives him some strange green tokens which have the weirdest effect not just on the garden peach-tree but on its insects as well.
David Wood's adaptation, Grant Olding's score, Nikolai Foster's direction and Colin Richmond's designs work as well for this latest tour by the Birmingham Stage Company production as they did the first time round.
The multi-skilled cast play brass and string instruments and put over both the songs and Drew McOnie's clever choreography extremely well. There's perhaps a touch of over-enthusiasm with the dry-ice canisters, however.
The skateboarding sharks, Chris Lindon's multi-shoed centipede, Iwan Tudor's violin-wielding grasshopper and Rhys Saunders' lugubrious earthworm all win the young audience's hearts, and there's enough wit in both words and music to keep their elders happy too.
Tom Gillies is a likeable James with whom everyone, young and old, can empathise both in his sorrows and in his ultimate success. With a lot of help from his friends, of course.