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Brighton Year-Round 2022

James and the Giant Peach

Brighton Little Theatre

Genre: Adaptation, Children's Theatre, Comedy, Contemporary, Live Music, Puppetry, Short Plays, Theatre

Venue: Brighton Little Theatre


Low Down

Directed by Joseph Bentley, Musical Director Elizabeth Woodhouse, Movement Director Patti Griffiths, Assistant Director Tina Sitko, Dance Captain Frankie Knight, Stage Manager Paul Charlton, ASM Vicky Horder.

Set Design Construction and Painting Steven Adams and Set Construction and Painting Tom Williams. Lettering Patti Griffiths

Lighting & Sound Design Beverley Grover, Lighting /Sound Operation Myles Locke.

Costumes Laura Johnston and Christine Fox. Make-Up & Wigs Patti Griffiths

Photography Miles Davies. Video Trailer

With special thanks to Mary Napoli, Laura Hillman and City Books for scripts

Till December 17th


“Marvellous things will start happening to you, fabulous, unbelievable things – and you will never be miserable again in your life.“ Gerry Wicks – first introducing himself as a New York guide – later morphs into a beneficent old man telling seven-year-old James (Samuel Masters) this news; then he starts singing it with a miraculous soft importunity. “Marvellous magical things….”

Yes Brighton Little Theatre mount David Wood’s 2004 adaptation of Roald Dahl’s early (1961) James and the Giant Peach directed by Joseph Bentley for the Christmas season. It’s not quite a musical but there’s entrancing numbers like the one cited, all down to musical director Elizabeth Woodhouse who (I assume) plays the offstage piano. This part of the production calls for a shout: the music, directing and ensemble singing.

It’s a delight and this year the set department, headed as often by Steve Adams (design) and Tom Williams have done more than create a giant peach with a swivelling exterior more swish than a Delorian;  and a top-end Peach to enact those peeking out aloft (since it’s too high as it is). The Queen Mary and three puppets (blissfully voiced) – who note with astonishment a flying giant peach – is the other major prop, even though appearing for just ninety seconds.

There’s back-projection, seas, underseas, skies, scudding and desolate countryside; and New York where we begin and end, and indeed a giant stone peach ditto after the New York children – well that’s to anticipate

After his parents (Mother, Esme Bird, Father Paul Charlton, both later appearing in bijou cheer-leading roles) were unfortunately eaten by a giant carnivorous Rhino in Regent’s Street, four-year-old James has to live with a pair of evil aunts who work him to the bone: bone-thin black-clad Aunt Spiker (Frankie Knight) and butterscotch-wide Aunt Sponge (Phaedra Danelli).

They’re a deliciously dastardly double-act, like all the cast costumed by Laura Johnston and Christine Fox, with wondrous wigs by Patti Griffiths who’s also movement director and responsible for the lettering on the peach-stone.

Wicks’ Old Man is at hand, as James after three years is splitting wood. A prop of listening emerald glow-worm-ish things in a bag will rescue him. Alas James stumbles and they vanish into the ground, reviving a gnarled peach tree, out of which the giant peach of the story blossoms. Though the aunts exploit this and keep James locked away, he finds his way literally into this hollow peach and discovers a coterie of now giant insects and friends for life.

Wood has sensibly reduced their number from seven to five, conflating functions: it’s quite a sextet of friends to get round as it is.

There’s the eldest, cultured violin-playing Old-Green-Grasshopper (Neil Turk-Thompson, all elegance and triple-threat) expostulating in his black-and-bottle-green garb: ″I have never been a pest in my life. I am a musician” when challenged by Oliver Russell’s avuncular, truculent Centipede, who – as Kirilly Long’s fabulously made-up Earthworm reminds him – has only 42 legs. Lugubriously, in a delicious Eeyore performance by Long.

“Well, James, have you ever in your life seen such a marvellous colossal Centipede as me?” Russell – who enjoys an inadvertent underwater spell rescued by James (superb undersea projections here) – provides the outsize     entrepreneurial character to bounce off Earthworm, and cultured Grasshopper.

It’s his Centipede who sets the tale rolling instructed to bite through the stem tethering the giant peach, so it rolls off flattening the aunts or (here) just chasing them as it flies over the cliffs (the interval!) and crashes into the sea. Besieged by sharks (more costumes) James suggests lassooing 502 seagulls to fly them – if not to the moon – then as it happens the Big Apple instead. And on the way those shark duos now become two Cloud Men and we’re pelted – well find out for yourself!

As for how they’re received, it’s a sky-hanger you’ll need to see: “Don’t be frightened of us, please!” Masters’ James calls out. “We’re so glad to be here!” But how will that prickly country receive such fantastical beings?

Olivia Jeffery’s a benign and rather selfless Mis Spider, in filigree back extensions, providing vital threads to keep the tale moving, as it were. She’s also touched in with melancholy: “I am not loved at all. And yet I do nothing but good. All day long I catch flies and mosquitos in my webs. I am a decent person.” Ellie Mason’s maternal, anxious Ladybird is a contrasting triumph in cadmium red.

Masters has the wide-eyed measure of James, and lands him beautifully poised between exuberant naif and that hard-headed seriousness of ingenious young boys. He proves, after all, to be his friends’ captain. It’s a welcome return to the stage: Masters experienced in things like Les Mis, is one to watch.

But this cast is flawless. Turk-Thompson’s musicianship matches his poise and elegant finnickiness. Mason oscillates a mix of anxiety and warmth in her vulnerable red shell, and Jeffery’s physical acting extends her range here. It’s good to see Long back and so lugubriously too, inhabiting her overtopping role.  Knight is the vocal narrow-bore, vitriol Spiker, whilst Danelli’s Sponge enjoys more self-indulgence and rounding everything with greed.  Bird crops up in winning roles riffing a children’s TV presenter persona. Charlton, released too from Father is able to pop up in a gallimaufry of make-up, mostly American.

In short, another winner, pitched just right. Props, back-projections and set as well as costumes and wigs are outstanding, and acting  wholly truthful and touching. Bentley’s paced this crisply too: it’s over before you know it. There’s no better Christmas show in town.