James & the Giant Peach

10 May 2017

On the eve of The Journal Culture Awards, here’s a reminder why I nominated Northern Stage's recent production of James & The Giant Peach for Best Performance of 2016/7.

I have seen a lot of children’s theatre (both in a professional capacity and as a picky parent) and this production literally blew my peachy little head off! We were a party of 4 comprising 3 adults (one of whom is very cynical about all theatre) and an excitable 7 year old who is not backwards about coming forwards and has very strong opinions about EVERYTHING! We left the auditorium elated – one of the best theatre experiences we’ve shared as a family in a long time.

Being (possibly) the only human being on the planet who is not a fan of Roald Dahl (don’t shoot me) I did not know the story and was not expecting a great deal. The fantastical tale was told in such an engaging manner we were all completely enthralled right from the opening sequence. Rarely do you see a show that manages to tick so many boxes – great acting, simple but effective costumes, captivating movement, engaging characterisation, clever lighting, creative props and so many different theatre techniques I lost track. The inclusion of the ‘chorus’ as they whizzed around the stage on scooters, the clever use of props (who knew some umbrellas and a mask could create such a realistic stampeding rhino?) and the way that the cast interacted with the audience through bubbles, birds and sea creatures – absolutely inspired!

My daughter may be savvy, strong willed and hard to impress, but she’s not keen on audience participation and hates being put on the spot. The show was formulated in such a way that she felt part of it, she was able to embrace the magic but she did not feel nervous or singled out. She wasn’t made to shout silly slogans (but did quietly join in some of the singing and clapping), she didn’t want to sing and dance (but happily ducked and dived away from the swooping birds) and she wasn’t squirted with water or made to get out of her seat (but could get swept up in the magical ‘underwater’ experience created with lighting, sound and descending bubbles).

Special mention should go to the two aunts – great comic timing, wonderful movement and hovering on the brink of tasteless, but never spilling over on to the wrong side.

And the peach?! What can I say about the peach? (What CAN’T I say about the peach?!) If you’re ever looking for tips on how to create a burgeoning furry fruit on stage, give the team at Northern Stage a call. The only downside is that from now on I’m going to expect this from every show. (Cue Macbeth – is this an orangey fruit I see before me??! It could work, right?!)

Huge Congratulations to Northern Stage for this perfectly pitched (or should that be peached?) frenetic, fantastic, and uplifting family show.

Good Luck at the Awards tomorrow night!