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Kickstart’s production of David Wood’s dramatisation of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach opens a rare and exciting treasure trove of magical theatre for children. Exploring a huge range of theatrical techniques, Greg King’s meticulously envisioned and materialised production keeps youngsters riveted with enchanting scenes packed with surprises to delight the senses  (Photos by Val Adamson (from left): Belinda Henwood as evil Aunt Sponge; Bryan Hiles as James & Clare Mortimer as evil Aunt Spiker)

Taking young people to the theatre is a time-honoured way of introducing them to the culture of live entertainment; this has unaccountable value in terms of stimulating the imagination and creating lasting and satisfying artistic experiences to be stored in the impressionable memory. Moreover, it grooms and develops a taste for theatre which then makes theatre itself a viable outlet for creative expression and further guarantees work for artists in this field. Theatre for young people is a specific genre of theatre that encompasses a huge range of styles and approaches: Greg King’s production of James and the Giant Peach offers the full palate, making this production a truly enriching experience at every level.

It is a musical; it incorporates physical theatre and elements of pantomime. It includes a range of puppetry and some mask work; it combines narrative and dialogue. There is controlled audience participation.  Technically, it is brilliantly set, lit and costumed. The actors of all of the highest water, sailing through the demanding story line which zig-zags between the real, the fictional, the fantastical and the outrageous!     

 James and the Giant Peach was one of Roald Dahl’s first children’s books; like so many of his stories it skirts dangerous corners when dealing with the relationship between children and adults. The dreadful aunts Sponge and Spiker are the stuff of nightmares  - their harassing, bullying, undermining, and abusive treatment of the innocent orphan James  is both shocking and enormously funny. Sponge, the greedy fatty is played with delicious voracity by the versatile and enthusiastic Belinda Henwood, who manages her enlarged form with exquisite authenticity. She is aided and abetted by the cool and nasty Spike, played with sangfroid and oh-so-nicely controlled humour by the beautiful Clare Mortimer.

Our little hero, James, is safe in the hands of Bryan Hiles, who takes his character from woebegone skivvy-orphan to full-on hero with seamless art. Peter Court, who, as the leader of the Junk Yard gang, with decided leprechaun DNA, introduces the magical Marvellous Things that are the catalyst for the big change, is pure magic himself. With his consummate sense of the dramatic, his excellent timing and his clever handling of props he helps hold a tricky storyline together.

And what a story! The Marvellous Things escape, swell a peach to giant size and hugely enlarge familiar garden creatures who then take James on a rollicking adventure that includes underwater and high-in-the-sky enchantments and a happy ending in New York!

Court plays the Old Green Grasshopper with debonair stylishness and is joined by Lyle Buxton as the confident centipede and Nhlakanipho Manqele as the meek and fearful earthworm. Buxton shines in this role, his rich vocal range handling the difficultly pitched solos with ease; he also manages a few other characters with dignity and energy. Mortimer returns as a steadfast and dependable Miss Spider, in fantastically flattering garb, and Henwood takes on Ladybird with Scottish accent and lots of natural bright-eyed verve. 

 The Durban-based South Jersey Pom Poms, known for their jaunty original music styled mostly on the deep polka and waltz of eastern European gypsy culture, have created the songs and sound track for James and the Giant Peach. This was a brilliant motivation and works exceptionally well, the lively folky tunes suiting the production to a T. The group recorded the backing tracks at Colin Peddie’s Sonic Studio and Ross van Wyk did a great job of the Sound Design. The set, a thing of wonder that moves in all the right places was designed by Greg King and Tina le Roux makes the magical come true with her refined and sensitive light touch.  

July is a beautiful holiday season in Durban. Add to its enchantment and fun by ensuring that you take your entire family to see this production. On at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre until 23 July, booking is through Computicket. 


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