Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach – Mill Theatre – Review by Edward Melvin
Adapted by David Wood, Directed by Geoff O’Keeffe
dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum Town Centre, June 17th – 25th
Roald Dahl’s much-loved James and the Giant Peach, written in 1961, follows a now familiar story arc, from lost parents to mean relatives, followed by redemption and resolution through a journey of imagination and discovery. This lively Mill theatre production represents the tale with considerable wit and energy. A little over an hour without interval, it offers an excellent summer escape from our pitiless June rain and/or sun.
The near-full house in attendance on the day seemed familiar with the story: after losing his parents to a freak rhinoceros accident, James must live with Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. Simply the most heartless, greedy Aunts in England; they treat him poorly, enslaving and isolating the poor boy. Life for James is almost unbearable.
One day, James meets a mystical old man who gives him a bag of mysterious magic. When James accidentally spills the bag near an old peach tree, the most incredible things start to happen… and the adventure begins.
The set itself is dominated, of course, by the giant peach, rendered in a quite gorgeous picturebook style. Lighting is used to great effect to indicate the narrative of the peach itself – from tree, to ground, to its role in providing a suitably satisfying crushing end for James’ Aunts Sponge and Spiker, and beyond. The exit of the two aunts is something of a pity in fact, their being the most visible enemies in the story. Joanne Quinn’s portrayal of the detestable Sponge and Matthew O’Brien’s turn as the equally repugnant Spiker were undoubtedly highlights.
The journey of the peach provides quite a challenge to dramatise, given that it rolls down a hill, spends a good deal of its time floating in the Atlantic before being hoisted into the air… Much credit must therefore go to the set designers & lighting work but also to the entire cast, most of whom play multiple roles as well as physically manipulating the set as they go. Their consistent energy was palpable and entirely admirable. One five year old I know had high praise for underwater scenes and also openly coveted shark and seagull props.
Any production which inspires my child to concoct his own “Max and the Giant Apple” story (and hold forth on it for the entire weekend) is likely getting a lot right. It’s not just the source material doing that either. Roald Dahl is very fondly regarded and rightly so, but his stories are not infallible. The journey of James & the giant peach sags a little around the midriff, in comparison to the high points at either end where despicable aunts meet juicy ends and peaches land atop skyscrapers. David Wood’s adaptation provides consistent energy and interest and that is to be noted and applauded.
An eager early afternoon audience lapped up this performance. The play includes a number of singalongs and opportunities for urchins to yell, clap along and experience just the right levels of joy and fear. Also at the Dundrum venue is a quite wonderful exhibition of framed art and illustration from the world of Roald Dahl, which serve to deepen the experience and are certainly worth time either side of the show. Recommended.
Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach
14th – 25th Jun 2017
dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum Town Centre
Show times: 10am, 11.45am, Weekend shows 2pm & 4pm
Admission: adults €14, children €12, groups €10, plus family discounts available.
Tickets 01-2969340 / http://www.milltheatre.ie