Conceptualising any story from the brilliant mind of the late Roald Dahl as a stage adaptation would be tricky enough, but one as wacky and imaginative as James and The Giant Peach has got to be near the top of the difficult list.
Levin Little Theatre and Horowhenua Young Persons Entertainment Theatre (HYPE) however, did a fine job of delivering the story in a version that packed in enthusiasm and community involvement.
A large troupe of actors brought the story to life in a way that required the audience to use a fair bit of imagination, which I think is a good thing.
There were many children involved in the production, a sign of a vibrant local theatre company, and they brought smiles to the faces in the audience at the tiny theatre.
Dahl's tale is of an orphaned boy who escapes misery and domestic drudgery at the hands of his terrible aunts through an encounter with a mysterious magic tramp who sets into motion a chain of events resulting in an enormous peach inhabited (inside the hollowed-out stone) by a motley crew of overgrown insect characters. James joins the peach-dwellers, who become his friends, and when the fruit is released from its tree, it rolls away and ends up bobbing in the Atlantic.
Some hungry sharks get a bit curious, which results in a plan to tether the peach to hundreds of seagulls, which lift it up, carry it the rest of the way across the ocean, via a trippy encounter with some cloud creatures, and it ends up impaled on the spire of New York's Empire State Building before becoming a major tourist attraction.
Even writing that makes it seem utterly ridiculous, but that is the charm of Dahl's storytelling. The impossible is possible, the unsaid is said and the furthest reaches of the imagination are suddenly centre stage.
Which brings me back to tackling the story as an actor, a job well done by this cast, especially with the number of young people involved.
Vincent Bennik put his heart and soul into his role as James, holding his own with older cast members. At the age of just 11, Vincent's confidence and ability to be the thread between all the different scenes was well beyond his years. He seemed at home on the stage, and used the space really well.
The anchoring presence of Declan Leahy as the violin-playing Grasshopper also helped lift the production, while a bit of continental glamour was injected by Amber Rollinson and Devany Prosser-Hill as Ladybird and Miss Spider. Devany in particular brought a languid manner to her acting that contrasted well with the slightly hyped and deliberately egocentric character of the Centipede, played by Noah Watters.
Some great comic timing and the ability to make himself the butt of the joke meant Navah Chapman's Earthworm, resplendent in pink puffer jacket and beanie, was a favourite with the audience, next to the lead role of James. The two also worked well together, and a scene where the Earthworm acts as bait to lure seagulls which James tethers to the peach showed a great collaboration between the pair.
Outside of the peach crew, there were also some enthusiastic efforts by Jacob Reeves and Caitlyn O'Neil as Aunts Sponge and Spiker. Sponge was the classic, over-the-top pantomime character which Jacob Reeves threw himself into with aplomb.
A supporting cast of many other characters and a large chorus helped to set scenes and add an extra dimension to a production that looked to be inclusive and fun to be part of, which is surely a nod to the skills of director Linda Buckley.
I would say though, that it could be a little tricky to understand exactly what is going on with the storyline if you hadn't read the book. The adaptation is good, but as mentioned, tackling Dahl's imagination is no easy feat. While the play, with its visual approach and accessible style, will appeal to most, it will be those who know and love Dahl's classic tale
who will get the most out of it.
James and the Giant Peach: Friday 27th July, 7pm, Saturday 28th July, 2pm, Sunday 29th July, 2pm and Friday 3rd August, 7pm, Saturday 4th August, 2pm, Sunday 5th August, 2pm.
Levin Little Theatre, Weraroa Rd, Levin. Tickets ($10 adults, $6 12 years and under) at The Beacon Gift and Bookshop, Oxford St, Levin or phone 06 368 2123. www.facebook.comlevinlittletheatre