JOYCE MCMILLAN on JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH at Dundee Rep, for The Scotsman 1.12.14.
3 stars ***
FIRST, let’s be clear about one thing; if a seasonal Christmas show is what you’re after, then Dundee Rep’s version of this classic Roald Dahl story is not for you. It is a decent, mid-range chldren’s show, often happily inventive, sometimes a little awkward; and apart from a complex message about finding love and companionship in strange places, it has nothing at all to say about any aspect of the traditional midwinter feast.
So with the help of some deliberately hand-knitted scenic effects by designer Jean Chan, Jemima Levick’s seven-strong ensemble tell the slightly gruesome tale of young James, whose loving parents are eaten by a rhinoceros in Regent Street, and who – after a horrible sojourn with two cruel aunts – is saved by a bag of magic seeds which cause a giant peach to grow, with a correspondingly large set of insects inside, who become James’s best friends on a heroic journey to a new life in New York.
Sound silly? It is, a bit; and this Rep version is plagued by repeated failures of the onstage peach to do what the story says it is doing, whether rolling down a hill, or being lifted into the air by friendly seagulls. There are some richly enjoyable performances here though, and several rousing songs by music director Jon Beales. And in the end, there’s a joyous moment of audience participation, when we all have to play our part in keeping a giant peach balloon afloat, as it drifts down towards Manhattan; ensuring a rousing final cheer for a show that never hits the heights of children’s theatre, but achieves a certain rough-edged grandeur, in the end.