James and the Giant Peach – Northern Stage

A peach of a home for James

As eager repeat visitors to Northern Stage theatre in my hometown of Newcastle Upon Tyne, my friend and I settled into our seats along with a large auditorium of relatively young children in matching school jumpers, to watch their new production of James and the Giant Peach. There is always a slight fear factor with this many children in one place, as, if they aren’t engaged by a production, things can get unpleasant. Happily, the hundreds of kids were good as gold, and we were as mesmerised as they were by this colourful, imaginative, funny and rather surreal show. The adaptation is by David Wood, and it’s the most fun I’ve had on a Monday afternoon for a  very long time.

Having a peachy time in NYC

Brought up on the classic Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate factory, (I even wrote to congratulate the BBC after they premiered the film adaptation starring Gene Wilder years ago,) I was not familiar with the story of James and the Giant Peach. Luckily, the narrative is so bizarre anyway, you don’t need to get too hung up on the plot.  There’s an orphan child (as always) whose parents in this case were cruelly eaten by a rogue rhinoceros escaped from the zoo. Cue some excellent umbrellaography which created the body of the fearsome creature. After such catastrophe, some evil relatives emerge and James is duly sent to live with them and is treated very badly in true Cinderella style.

Aunt Spiker has a sharp tongue

James is dispatched to live with his aunts Sponge and Spiker, who were excellently portrayed by Michael Blair and Alice Blundell respectively. They were as deliciously horrible as Roald Dahl could ever have ever wanted. Aunt Sponge was visually very funny. Without wishing to appear too un PC, it is difficult not to giggle at a man in a large sponge fat suit mincing about the stage in trainers. It goes without saying that poor old James escapes the clutches of his evil aunts, and decides to get inside the giant magical peach and naturally meets a whole new set of friends who just happen to be musical instrument playing insects.

Everyone needs friends

The design of the set is excellent, as is the way the company brings to life various bizarre situations encountered during the merry band’s adventures. The scenes featuring the peach growing bigger and bigger, and the ones with a flock of seagulls and sharks and jellyfish and other undersea creatures were particularly visually impressive.
There was quite a bit of audience interaction with balloons of increasing dimensions being bounced back and forth into the audience and more fun with bubbles and ticker tape spilling from the ceiling. We loved it!

James and friends weather the storm

I really appreciated the vibrant costumes with the cartoon coloured 1950’s retro vibe going on. Stan Hodgson, perfect as James our hero, was channelling the WWII evacuee look with socks, shorts and a highly desirable fair isle tank top (sleeveless jumper in translation.) Everyone had great costumes, and there were lots of brightly coloured stripes and delightfully lurid accessories to enjoy.
All the cast were outstanding and got the right mix of childlike wonder mixed with unflagging energy and brightness, in the face of entirely fantastical scenarios. The music is sassy and the original songs just good enough – I did like ‘Miraculous Things’ in particular.

Settling in to the Big Apple with the Giant Peach!

We were right in the front row and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. Watching the children’s reactions to the crazy goings on on stage was also a lot of fun. I’m not a massive fan of traditional panto, I find it fairly boring actually, but James and the Giant Peach is fast paced, funny, and visually spectacular at times, go and see it at Northern Stage while you can!